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Raffique Shah


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Crime pay$ big buck$

By Raffique Shah
Mar 04, 2012

Crime pays. Big time. And big bucks. We always knew that. Mostly, when we think of profiteering off criminal activities, we think of criminals and attorneys, one breed often indistinguishable from the other. The ties that bind them are the blood, sweat and tears of the victims of crime, mainly innocent people who work hard to provide the basics for their families, only to be relieved of their material possessions, at times their lives, by ruthless criminals.

The majority of criminals blow their ill-gotten gains on bling, setting some aside to pay attorneys' fees. Smart criminals use the loot from their nefarious activities to enhance their personal lives, to acquire property, luxury vehicles, live the good life, although they too must share the spoils with their attorneys. On the face of it, these two groups appear to be the main beneficiaries of crime. Right? Wrong!

Last week, I read where a company comically named "Wala Wala Ltd" gained $850,000 a month because of the high crime rate. I rubbed my eyes to see if my vision was deceiving me. But no, the numbers were there, provided by my one-time army colleague, Brigadier John Sandy, and I know that "Wang" does not lie. Never did. So what's Wala Wala's story, its claim to fortune, if not fame?

It seems that when the Government declared a State of Emergency last year, the plan was to lock up so many suspects, there would be no room at the nation's already overcrowded prisons for the influx of felons and detainees. Wala Wala owns a massive but un-utilised warehouse-style structure that once housed the Neal & Massy's car assembly plant. Somebody spoke with somebody, I can only imagine, and a deal was struck.

Thus, the privately-owned warehouse was converted into a taxpayers' funded prison that cost a whopping $50 million. Having paid to rebuild the innards of the structure, the Government now rents it at a cost of $850,000 a month. How many dangerous criminals are housed in Wala Wala's jail? It started out with 17, I believe, all of whom the State had to release unconditionally when the Emergency expired. Today, there are just over 100 prisoners, who, we are told, will soon enjoy cable television.

Now, if that is not as much madness as public funding for Prophetess Juliana's Temple, I don't know what is. Who concocted this? Wala Wala? Cabinet? Adviser? Ever since I first heard and read of this seriously jokey affair, a calypso sung by the venerable Lord Cristo has been humming in my head, much the way Shadow's "Bassman" haunted him. Christo, in "The Dumb Boy and The Parrot", sang, "Where ignorance is bliss, it's folly to be wise..." In one of the better calypsoes of yesteryear, the dumb boy and the parrot (Lorito) warned the bard of his wife's infidelity. He paid no heed when Lorito said, "Wala Wala Bing Bang, in dey!"

It seems that we citizens are being "Wala-Wala-Bing-Bang-ed" by a devilish deal that amounts to profiteering off crime. Because the cost of housing a handful of prisoners at this private facility runs well beyond the numbers above. The prisoners must be fed, clothed and guarded, at additional expense. And we have not factored in the cost of cable television. See what I mean when I say that crime pays? It's an industry, a huge enterprise that spans government offices, corporate boardrooms, secluded mansions, running right through gangsters' dens, drug barons' castles, to "good citizens" who buy stolen items, and lowly pushers' turfs. Much like the trillion-dollar military-industrial complexes in developed countries that promote war, crime could also dictate national policies.

In this scheme of things, criminals become almost irrelevant, except that they are required to continue their heinous activities to keep fuelling the industry. Let me put it another way. If, by some magic, crime and criminals were to vanish, what would be the fallout? Who would need the tens of thousands of law enforcement officers, security guards and associated personnel? Nobody! You and I could leave our doors open and sleep tight. We could prune the Police Service, retaining only a small number of officers to control traffic. Hundreds of security companies would go out of business. Empires built off continuing crime would crash.

Over the past decade or more, home and office security systems, CCTVs, eyes-in-the-skies and similar electronic equipment have found their way into every nook and cranny, literally. Companies have sprung up across the country offering every imaginable "protective" device. This is another multi-million dollar business that thrives off crime. If crime were to dissipate, it would disappear.

Some years ago, government contracted a large private security company to transport prisoners from the nation's prisons to courts across the country. The police had previously performed this task, as they do in most countries. But government privatised it. The company that landed the contract must have made hundreds of millions, possibly billions of dollars, doing what is essentially a function of the police. Crime pays.

Because of the level of crime in this country, the Prime Minister, in addition to having at her service three-to-five ministers and a National Security Council, also has a number of national security advisers. So did the previous prime minister. Indeed, the PNM government imported foreign police officers and crime experts, at considerable cost, to help fight crime. It cost us, but it did not help. Citizens remain under siege.

While law-abiding citizens pray for crime to be eliminated, there are others, among them "good citizens" about whom Sparrow sang, who profit off the crime. They no doubt pray for crime to continue. For them, the more the merrier. Best of all, we suffer and we pay while they play. What a thing...

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