weeks 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2) If the URP money is withdrawn, and the young men have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
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 dont think so but, hey, I have been wrong
What I do realise is that last weeks 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.