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Raffique Shah


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A year pregnant with possibilities

By Raffique Shah
Jan 02, 2011

Barring being victims of unpredictable natural disasters or another global economic "meltdown", Trinidad and Tobago seems set to enjoy an encouraging 2011. There will be no boom similar to what we wallowed in from 2005 to 2007. The crime rate will not drop precipitously because of a change of heart among heartless criminals (surely an oxymoron), or a significant improvement in the policing and justice systems. Poverty will not disappear. The nation's roads won't be transformed into highways to heaven.

But ahead lies a year pregnant with possibilities. If we chart a course that is action-oriented, if we put country before self, we can all reap rich rewards.

Take crime, the number one issue that could negate everything else we do to make this a better place. It's a scourge that we have learnt to live with—which is a contradiction. Why should we accept this as the norm? Statistics show that in 2010, we experienced an average of 400 robberies a month, and a similar number of burglaries. Motor vehicle thefts stood at around 100 a month, general larcenies 300, and rapes 50. Murders averaged 40.

Since these are statistics for reported crimes, we can easily double the numbers for crimes other than murders and vehicle thefts. What these numbers tell us is that we live in a virtual state of siege. We can no longer enjoy life in a tropical paradise—beach limes, strolling on moonlit nights, even leaving our doors and windows open to savour the breezes that caress our bodies, our souls.

There is, however, an ugly, obverse side to these crime numbers. The three biggest crimes we experience are consumer-driven. Let me explain, and this not for the first time. Except for cash that bandits and burglars keep for themselves, everything else they steal, they sell or give to others. Whether the recipients are unconscionable buyers of "hot" items or families who encourage crime by keeping or storing "loot", they are all accessories to violent crimes.

If bandits, burglars and thieves have no "markets" for the items they relieve their victims of, they would have to rent warehouses to store their "loot". In other words, if people who claim to be law-abiding refuse to buy or accept stolen items, that single act of good-citizenry would all but eliminate at least 24,000 criminal acts a year! Digest that number. All I did was add the estimated monthly numbers for robberies, burglaries and larcenies, multiply them by 12, and there you have it.

Rapes and murders are different: the former are grossly under-reported while numbers for the latter are accurate. I feel certain, though, that if we contain the commonest crimes, there would be a ripple effect on other, more serious offences. It's how citizens can make a big dent in crime. See why we do not need a policeman at every corner? If we apply my theory of citizens acting responsibly (not original, I should add) to driving on the roads, to littering and care for the environment, we can make a quantum leap in improving the quality of our lives.

These observations and suggestions in no way exculpate persons in authority. Those who are paid to protect and serve us must do their duty or be kicked out of the protective services. Politicians and public officials who are paid even better to serve the people, to use the Prime Minister's favourite mantra, must perform or step aside. If citizens are to act responsibly, politicians and public officers shoulder an even greater responsibility.

Regarding the economy, while we look back at 2010 as a year of stagnation, 2011 is more promising. We begin the year with oil prices hovering around US$90 a barrel. We can expect that to stabilise at US$100, which experts see as a fair price to producers and consumers. However, our oil production has fallen badly (now 90,000 bpd). We can reverse this slide, but only marginally.

Our downstream energy industries are mature—meaning our ammonia, methanol and liquid gas plants are operating at optimum levels. Gas prices are weak, and they are likely to remain so for some time. But ammonia, urea and methanol prices have rebounded and are expected to remain buoyant.

The manufacturing sector, which has relied on the captive Caricom market for its success, has fallen on lean times because of the state of the regional economies. There is a giant-of-a-market that's coming awake at our doorstep—South America, with a combined population of close to 400 million. Our manufacturers need to exploit this. They enjoy many advantages that make them competitive. Now, they need to prove they can shine on this huge Latin American stage.

Now, a few words on food production: we need less talk and more action. A global food crisis is looming large, and big countries (China, India, Korea, Japan) are seeking food security by acquiring and cultivating huge tracts of land in parts of Africa and Asia. Food production can no longer be on Government's "to do" list. It must be a priority item, an imperative.

We cannot allow thousands of hectares of land to lie idle for another year. Give these lands to anyone who is prepared to produce, whether he (or she) comes from Laventille or Las Lomas. Once they show they can till the soil or rear livestock, however small their contributions may be, encourage them. If we bring 50 per cent of idle lands under cultivation, 2011 would be a great year.

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