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Raffique Shah


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Rogues, rogues everywhere

October 30, 2005
By Raffique Shah

LAST week, The Times newspaper in England ran a story titled "The Best and Worst Police Forces in the country". I thought the findings were very instructive, given our own situation, what with the nation's police officers being categorised alongside politicians as being incompetent in their performance and insensitive to the plight of law-abiding citizens. Even for the "rogue cops" elements in the Service, that's bad news. Institutions like the Defence Force, the Police Service and the Prisons Service ought to be the stabilising forces in the country, aloof of, and certainly more respected than politicians.

The latter, while they wield power, are transients: Prime Minister Manning, for example, announced last week that when he retires from politics, he'll become a preacher. What he did not say is there are more rogues in cassocks and kurtas and designer suits, preaching from pulpits, than there are in all the police institutions worldwide! But the PM has had proper "groundings" in preparation for preaching. Most preachers are so much like politicians. They promise what they cannot deliver (pay me to get your sins forgiven and I'll find you a choice spot in heaven). They pronounce with authority on what they no nothing (how in heaven's name they know so much about Hell?). And they have foolish people feeding them even as those who give remain mired in misery.

The protective services, on the other hand, are permanent custodians of the safety of the population they have vowed to protect and serve and defend. Which is why when politicians play the ass (par for the parliamentary course), our people would necessarily look towards these institutions, along with the judiciary, for salvation.

In the UK, 43 police forces were assessed in seven categories. These include reducing crime, investigating crime, promoting safety, community confidence and resource use. Seven per cent were rated excellent, 44 per cent good, 40 per cent fair and nine per cent poor. Overall, it was agreed the "bobbies" did not do badly: some 78 per cent of people questioned were satisfied with their performance.

It would be interesting to see how our police fare in any similar exercise. I feel certain that much, much less than 78 per cent of our people are satisfied with their performance. What compounds our woes is it does not matter whether Peter or Paul is Commissioner, none can rein in rogue cops. At least Jules Bernard was honest enough to say that as Commissioner he was a "toothless bulldog". I pity Trevor Paul because he knows from previous experience that unless things change radically over the next few years, he will have served and achieved nothing by way of uplifting the image and competence of the Service.

Outside interventions like that of Scotland Yard some 12 years ago, or the FBI today, will hardly make a difference. We are dealing here with an entrenched "mafia" within the Service that aid and abet crime, coddle criminals, and receive generous "stipends" from drug dealers and kidnappers. How do you root out this evil? Unless the intention is to move "drastic" against them, we are condemned as a people to live our lives knowing that the "bad guys" always win. And here I point fingers not just at those who put guns to our heads and relieve us of our valuables, but others whose ill-gotten gains have made them untouchables. Hell, to be blunt, they have bought their way into high society even as their minds and illicit activities keep them in the gutter.

But while the spotlight necessarily focuses on "rogue cops", who is looking at elements in the judiciary that have forever altered the meaning of justice? Or at attorneys who have so manipulated the system as to make justice a blind "jammette" who indiscriminately dispenses AIDS to the good, but allows the bad and the ugly to go free? Not that this is a new phenomenon: time was when one could buy a magistrate for a bottle of rum and curried duck.

I am sure that price has moved up significantly, and that after the jailing of Patrick Jagessar (he had taken a bribe via a cheque!), offshore banks and foreign bank accounts must be avenues for laundering dirty dollars.

Within recent times there have been some very strange judgments. It does not take a forensic expert to determine guilt in many matters that come before the nation's courts. Yet, too often we see the guilty walk free, smiling from ear-to-ear, while in many instances poor people who commit minor infractions are made to pay dearly. When we look at the percentage of murder accused who walk free, we must not only blame faulty police investigations, we need to look, too, at who is sitting on the bench. There's so much that's rotten in the state of Trinidad and Tobago, I sometimes wonder if we are the modern-day Babylon, or a reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah.