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Raffique Shah


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Failed leadership, not a failed state

By Raffique Shah
June 01, 2008

For many decades Scandinavian countries-Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland-have ranked highest in the world in economic and social indices. Far from being endowed with an abundance of natural resources, these countries wisely used what little they had (except Norway, which became oil-rich in the 1970s) to develop societies that are at the upper spectrum of global rankings in just about every field. They rank among the top ten countries in income distribution (rich-poor gap), per capita gross national income (GNI), and several other globally accepted indicators of successful countries.

In order to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth, they all have almost punitive taxes imposed on the wealthy and social security systems that guarantee pensioners a better quality of life in their winter years. Their tax systems have caused their only two multi-billionaires among the top 100 in Forbes Rich List-the Ingvar Kamprad and Birget Rausing families-to reside in the tax-haven that is Switzerland. In contrast, India, where an estimated 300 million people live on under US$1 a day, has seven billionaires among the top 100. In poverty-stricken Mexico, Carlos Slim almost booted Bill Gates out of the top position.

I have used the very limited data above to show the stark contrast between "failed states" and successful ones. Scandinavia's social equity no doubt reflects itself in the countries' crime statistics that would make a typical Trini "laugh till yuh bell buss"! While most serious crimes (robberies, rapes, murders) are below Europe's average, a more prevalent felony is bike-theft! Car stealing is virtually unheard of, but car tampering is of some concern. And threats or use of physical violence are attributed to-don't laugh-women's assertiveness that is universal in that part of the world.

Interestingly, two Caribbean countries are recorded as having crime rates lower than those cited above-Dominica and Montserrat. There is no doubt, though, that Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Guyana are the crime capitals of the Caribbean. It is not that there aren't burglaries, robberies and rapes in tourist havens like Barbados, St Lucia, St Maarten and Antigua. It's just that the media in those countries are conditioned to relegating crime reports to their inner pages, if they carry them at all.

As I wrote last week, there can be no excuse for the government and law enforcement agencies allowing crime to reach the levels it has. In spite of government's highly-touted 360-degrees radar to help stop boats from South America bringing in guns and drugs, the trade continues unabated. The illicit traders even resort to human cargoes-prostitutes from Colombia. In the Cedros peninsula, people know who the gun runners are. In Laventille, Morvant, Cocorite and Diego Martin, they know who the gang leaders and gangsters are. But what are they to do when they see these murderers consorting with politicians and policemen? Can any citizen rely on reports to the police, knowing that his life could well be in danger because he did his civic duty?

Moreover, the Government's fast-tracking of Vision 2020, which it believes must be visual (hence the multiple towers all over PoS), many citizens in need of help are left mired in poverty because they can't be easily seen. And even those most visible, the vagrants, remain eyesores in the rejuvenated capital city and other towns. Hazel Manning's vow to remove them remains as hollow as similar pronouncements by generations of ministers.

These shortcomings and many more are justification for many to refer to the country as a "failed state". But again, I register my dissent with this view. When New York and many other cities in the US were riddled with crime, was America declared a "failed state"? That country's health system is in crisis. Millions cannot access free medical attention, have no access to health care the way we do. And in spite of the crime levels, thousands flock restaurants, bars and clubs nightly. Night concerts are sold out: witness the recent Plymouth Jazz Festival.

Can they enjoy such freedom in Sudan or Haiti or Pakistan? And lest those who believe in the "failed state" mantra think that new-countries-on-the-global-block, like the Emirates, are without crime or traffic problems, they need to think again. Crime is on the rise in all these countries. Road carnage and driving habits are worse than they are here. Accidents are all too frequent, very gruesome. Migrant labourers who build these almost magical city-states live in squalor. The rich-poor gap is much wider than ours.

For all these reasons I am not about to join the conga-line of critics who see us on the brink of disaster. We do not have a "failed state". What we have are failed and failing leaders. We have citizens who have failed their children, who manufactured criminals in their homes. The nation is riddled with white collar criminals who feel they are several cuts above bandits and murderers.

Look into your mirrors, I say. Government ministers and opposition politicians, businessmen and labourers, policemen and doctors are all part of a "failed society".

Part I