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UNC’s record on crime

December 8, 2000

HOW successful has been the government’s crime policies?

“Crime is down, shootings have been cut by a third, and murder has been reduced every year since 1995,” declared Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.

And it’s true that murders declined, shootings and woundings fell, break-ins and larceny declined.

By the same CSO Crime Statistics, however, white collar crimes such as embezzlement, fraud and forgery—in a word, corruption—have increased. Car thefts are also up, rapes (and all sexual offences) increased, dangerous drugs offences are higher.

No statistics lie more than those of crime. Drugs offences only enter the figures when people are caught; but increased police activity appears as increased criminal activity. Or looks like an increase in other crimes can be merely an increase in reports. Were there more sexual offences, or do victims feel more able to report them?

In such cases the increase statistics can be positive. More police drug raids, and sexual victims feel more confident to challenge their violators.

“The incidence of incest is coming to light more and more,” says Assistant DPP Rangee Dolsingh. “Although we knew it was there, now on a daily basis people are more willing to come forward and complain.”

Events on the crime front are specially important in the run up to elections because crime was one of the UNC’s main 1995 campaign issues. The party’s manifesto declared that “Fighting crime will be a top priority of a UNC government.”

The party promised to be tough on both crime and its causes, proposing several measures to beef up the police, such as use of modern technology, recruiting better officers, removing the corrupt ones, mobilising community support, collaborating with the army.

And what was actually done?

“We put 1,741 new police officers on the street. We built 12 new stations and renovated 15. We added 241 new vehicles and implemented the E999 rapid response system. We also computerised stations so information could be accessed more readily and stations be in contact with each other easily,” claims UNC communications director Rodney Charles.

Apart from beefing up the police, the UNC government has also strengthened the position of criminal prosecutors.

“A lot of laws were passed that are beneficial to the administration of justice,” says Dolsingh. “The laws now provide for alternate jurors, for instance. It provides that you don’t necessarily need corroboration in sexual offences. Video tapes of confessions are now allowed, because 99.9 per cent of criminals allege police brutality.”

Indeed, the UNC enthusiasm for searching out criminals often went overboard. Penalties were increased for illegal demonstrators. The Equal Opportunity Act outlawed racial insults. A Green Paper proposed punishment for journalistic criticism. And, at least in rhetoric, teachers, policemen, the media, and trade unionists were branded as criminals.

Of course a large part of the UNC crime drive—their Plan A— was to execute a few murderers. And they were much more successful than the PNM, by hanging nine of the Dole Chadee gang over a long overcast weekend, dispatching in their enthusiasm one man about whose guilt doubts had arisen.

Ironically, that gruesome exercise was facilitated by an accelerated judicial process, owed largely to Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj’s arch-enemy, Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide. Indeed, the UNC manifesto claims credit for initiating the Court Administrative Department, which Maharaj has fought so bitterly to scuttle.

The drop off in murders is partly because the Chadee turf wars ended in the mid-90s. Thirty-one drug-related murders in 1994 fell to five in 1999—a decline for which credit must also go to the PNM and the drug lords themselves, who actively decimated their own murderous ranks.

“Long ago it was drug lords shooting each other, but we noticed that violence shifted to the home,” confirms Rodney Charles. “Things we’ve done include comprehensive domestic violence legislation to protect women.”

Charles lists the Domestic Violence Act which makes it easier for the police to intervene in the home, although that was passed under the PNM. “We’ve also established over 20 domestic violence safe houses,” he claims, explaining that: “You don’t know about them because we tried to keep them secluded, because the husbands try to find the women. You can access them by the National Domestic Violence hotline 800 SAVE.

“We built safe rooms in every new station. Before that, women had to sit on the bench outside. When they seek refuge they do not have beds. And we set up a domestic violence training programme for officers, because when women went to the station the policemen used to say that’s husband and wife thing.”

Insofar as crime indeed decreased overall, and—equally important—the fear of crime has receded, the booming economy and declining unemployment was probably the main cause. And if the UNC can claim no credit for rising oil prices, the party can for increasing foreign borrowing, and new high-rise construction projects.

But the spectre of crime doesn’t only haunt a country by its numbers; a few spectacular incidents can send shock waves through a society.

Here the UNC has badly blotted an otherwise good report, by becoming associated in the public mind with a frightening new type of criminality. Not corruption— that, whatever its new-found brazenness, pre-dated even the PNM.

But the murder of UNC Councillor Hansraj Sumairsingh, the assassination contract put out on CCN chairman Ken Gordon, the physical attacks on journalists, the padding of voters’ lists, and the close relationship of UNC politicians with Muslimeen elements, have introduced a new type of politicised crime into the landscape, which has become associated with the UNC in many minds.

And the question voters must confront is whether the scales of injustice were tipped by the decrease in the quantity of crimes, or their change in quality.