Thursday 28th April 2005


URP’s future dim

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Last week’s brazen daylight murder of Oba Jones on the Brian Lara Promenade has clarified in my own mind that the Government needs to take serious action with regard to the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP).

It seems to me that the URP, however well-intentioned, has been hijacked by lumpen elements who are seeking to extract as much as possible from the State.

The lumpen use a form of blackmail against the Government. The argument goes like this:

1) We need URP ghost gangs in order to distribute money in the “ghetto” so that the young men in the area, who may be attracted to crime, would have legitimate income.

2) If the URP money is withdrawn, and the young men have no income, they will be more likely to commit robberies and kidnappings in order to raise income.

The only problem with that argument is that it is not, or no longer, true.

It is clear that a significant part of the crime (murders, kidnappings, robberies) in T&T in 2005 is related to a fight among our urban gangs for ghost gang money.

Some of the ghost money from URP is being used to buy guns which are then being used to protect turf, put down “wok” or in murders and kidnappings.

It also seems to me that URP, and its previous incarnations, has deepened what is referred to as the dependency syndrome, whereby who communities are dependent on the Government handouts for generations.

This dependency syndrome has had a profoundly damaging impact on the work ethic in those communities.

At a time when the T&T economy is booming, the existence of the URP is also channeling potential labour away from the legitimate job market.

While this problem is particularly acute in Tobago I am told, it is also having an impact on the agricultural sector in Trinidad as some people opt for URP (or Cepep) jobs, instead of going to work planting vegetables or picking cocoa.

It seems, as well, that URP (and Cepep) are not as skills-intensive as they should be.

Given the robust construction sector, T&T is fast running short of qualified masons, painters, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders and other tradesmen. When these skilled tradesmen are available, they are able to call for sums of money that seem not to have any real connection with the job they are performing.

If you doubt me, ask anyone who has tried to build a house or even a wall recently.

Contractors are at the point where they are giving serious consideration to importing labour because some skills are just not available and are too expensive.

If the URP was scrapped and replaced with an intensive programme of paid skills training, we may reduce the problem of gangs fighting for ghost money.

We may also avoid some of the problems that are creeping into the local labour market.

But will the Government be willing to take the bull by the horns when they are not even willing to admit that the URP has been criminalised beyond redemption?

I personally don’t think so but, hey, I have been wrong before.

What I do realise is that last week’s Promenade murder would have been a wake-up call for many of us even though this society has become inured to our crime problem.

It certainly was a wake-up call for me.

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