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Am I missing something?

By Terry Joseph
September 14, 2002

For all he has repeatedly said about local media, UNC political leader Basdeo Panday is well poised to deny reports that he has lately been criticising the ruling PNM on the issue of its apparent inability to contain crime.

Mr Panday has most recently been quoted as saying while Prime Minister Patrick Manning is feting (no doubt alluding to the 40th Anniversary of Independence celebrations), businessmen are bawling over the frequency with which they are being targeted for sophisticated criminal activities.

Entrepreneurs in the capital city as well as those in rural districts, we heard, were packing up and leaving "in droves". Mark you, no businesses seem to be having closing-down sales, so we may presume owners are simply abandoning their shops, boarding flights to safer places and leaving lower level employees or even minions to mind the store.

While no one should really allow political persuasion to dictate thinking on so sensitive a social issue, we are all aware that the attractiveness of power often sways even the strongest among us. And if we are to believe media reports on the subject, Mr Panday has proven he is no exception to the rule.

As I remember it, Mr Panday, responding to a heckler at a meeting in the Croissee in 1995, justified the presence of then sidekick (and who knows what the future holds?) Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj as his choice for attorney general, by suggesting that if his candidate for Couva South really knew criminal elements, he would be best positioned in a crime-fighting Cabinet capacity.

When invited to form the government after the 1995 poll, Mr Panday was still clearly concerned about stemming runaway crime, installing Maharaj as promised and nominating to the Senate as national security minister, former Defence Force chief Joseph Theodore to apply the brake.

What we heard loudest from that arrangement was the soundtrack of a side-show involving the importation of a fleet of Cherokee jeeps that, as subsequently discovered, could not accommodate telecommunications equipment except ordered from an especially expensive supplier.

There was talk of zero-tolerance, Operation LEAP, joint army and police patrols and a number of other initiatives, all of which netted no real gain.

Citizens were beginning to wonder whether government had lost the battle outright.

Quite naturally, there was less of the crime-talk on the hustings during the run-up to the general election in 2000, as it may have been awkward to raise the subject, given the government's dismal performance in that sector during its first term.

As it happened, Mr Panday was again invited to form the government and on that round nominated defeated Arouca North candidate Roy Augustus for the crucial post of national security minister.

After a standoff triggered by President Arthur NR Robinson's refusal to endorse the appointment of Augustus and others, on the basis that too many candidates who had lost at the polls were being proffered by Mr Panday for parliamentary posts; the prime minister himself took up the national security challenge.

In the circumstances, Mr Panday was prime minister, UNC political leader, national security minister and head of the national security council as well, so "broad-based" consultation on what to do about still rising crime could have been effectively achieved simply by standing in front of a mirror.

Yet, nothing happened to reduce or even temporarily interrupt the crime-wave, with Trinidad and Tobago being noted on the Internet as a destination requiring "due caution;" all during the term of the man who would stop crime.

Although not the primary concern, crime became an issue during the 2001 election. Unfortunately, accusations against UNC party officials overshadowed the basic problem.

Mr Manning however got the nod to form the new government. In his turn at the helm, he presented us with Howard Chin Lee, a National Security Minister who had, shortly before his appointment, literally shot himself in the foot.

A much better marksman on a clear day, Mr Chin Lee often posed with formidable firepower, sending a message, as it were, to the criminals.

We had another round of vehicle purchasing, this time brightly-coloured cars with factory-installed fancy electronics. Still, there was no dent in the criminal network, with crooks continuing to appear on the front page more often than the good guys.

Mr Manning suggested that the recent spate of kidnappings may have been politically engineered (one may surmise that such a rotten trick must have been thought up by his detractors), but offered no explanation for increases in other types of crime.

With no increase in overall manpower, the anti-kidnapping squad had been expanded by 33 per cent and police generally, he said, now have all the tools they need to do the job.

What this more than likely means, is that other areas of policing had been raided to beef up the special squad, so the snatch-and-grab posse or the league of housebreakers can now run rampant.

In the face of the foregoing, up comes Mr Manning on Thursday night to tell us we shouldn't panic over crime. Am I missing something?

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