Saturday 31st December, 2005

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Peace, people

When deputy UNC leader Jack Warner takes the Soca Warriors to Germany next June, the fact boxes on T&T for international consumption hopefully will not include this country’s latest, biggest, fastest growing phenomenon—an exploding crime rate which broke all records in 2005.

Warner’s Warriors delivered one of the rare bright spots of 2005 and his party may have provided some of the more glaring highlights of the political calendar past.

But the crime crisis which Warner’s political opponents in the ruling PNM have failed to come to grips with in their three-year term overshot either set of events by spectacular lengths.

Increasingly, the bane of the PNM administration’s political life in the last three years could very well be the cause of its political death in the next couple ahead.

Growing as the country’s economic gains have increased, crime peaked in 2005 with a chilling toll which will have more than a few rethinking plans for 2006.

TTMA president Paul Quesnel, agreeing yesterday, added: “Nothing has improved since the start of 2005. Unless addressed quickly, T&T will continue to slide as it has been doing in various respects.”

“Crime has become more heinous in 2005 and there’s increasingly senseless disregard for life, property and the law,” added San Juan Business Association’s Gail Merhair.

The last 12 months saw the Government attempting to focus on certain situations as quickly as they were brought to light. The next 12 will determine whether that was sufficient enough to bring those situations effectively under control—including crime which has been the recipient of various types of attention since sharp deterioration of the situation in 2002.

The Government’s earliest complaint this year—the rate of project implementation—was turned over to various special companies to address.

When the Opposition complained of alleged corruption the Prime Minister immediately promised an inquiry. When former PNM chairman Franklin Khan and Minister Eric Williams were hit with similar allegations, Khan (eventually) resigned as minister. He quit his party post as his charges went to trial (after initially digging in.)

An integrity commission investigation involving accusations by the PSA against Health Minister John Rahael is also still pending.

The public meanwhile has had, to a certain extent, fight its own battle with crime which the administration sought to address with infrastructural, human resource and legislative measures, external assistance and recently clamping down on certain avenues.

To no avail.

Early initial optimistic reports about a reduction in kidnapping levels, still showed murder rate increases. And with renewed kidnapping trends, pleadings and posturings by the Government and further decreasing faith in security agencies, a more alarming phenomenon also arose this year: bombings.

It is cold comfort that T&T’s crime/kidnapping rate is not (yet) comparable to Haiti’s which is reported to be the highest in all of the Americas. But like Haiti’s kidnapping trend, T&T’s also went into overdrive in 2005. And like Haiti, patterns recently appear to be degenerating further into random targetting as this week’s abduction gone-awry and murder of Mark Rattan indicates.

Similarly, high is the local murder rate which for this year in T&T’s one million population is almost five times the murder rate in Toronto which has a population of three to four million.

The blinkered who view the situation as being blown out of proportion or sensationalised would have had only to glimpse the Death March to get an inkling of public sentiment, spilling on to the streets after seething for three years.

How this year’s record crime high might impact on T&T’s bid for the FTAA headquarters—decision due next year—or whether the situation will be brought under control in time for T&T to successfully host high security events as the 2008 Summit of the Americas and 2009’s Commonwealth leaders conference remains to be seen.

The PNM will be rated well before either event by the voting public which PNM leader Patrick Manning primed up all year for a coming election battle—there the Government will have to feel the heat of the battle which the population has been engaged in for survival during the term.

If the PNM scored a minor point in achieving consensus with the Opposition on one of a package of nine anti-crime bills, the administration has lost just as many when (after a particularly bad Christmas week) the Government sprung a second airship on a wearied and wary public.

The first having failed so abysmally, a second aging blimp—lacking security equipment and so obviously constructed for advertising like its Goodyear cousin—can hardly be accepted as an appropriate avenue for taxpayers’ funds, enough having already been spent on equipment, so far producing little tangible result.

Impending Carnival fever may make short shrift of the furore including arguments that the airship’s only ability may be to advertise the Government’s anti-crime effort. Perhaps it will actually nab those 66 gangs noted this year, but which seem never been nabbed.

But neither should the Government expect World Cup fervour or the Opposition’s problems to save its hide on the crime question next year.

The UNC indeed enters 2006 still trailing remnants of its recent tug- of-war.

When the dust of internal elections cleared, UNC chairman Basdeo Panday was still very much in fighting form—not just where PNM is concerned.

Leader Winston Dookeran learned that all that glitters isn’t gold. And the true central figure—deputy Jack Warner—had acquiesced (eventually).

Odd man out , MP Gerry Yetming said yesterday he’s awaiting Dookeran’s return to discuss the situation. Asked if he is at all encouraged by developments in UNC so far, Yetming replied: “No. Not yet encouraged.”

If the Opposition wanted to revive the spirit of ’86, former NAR minister Lincoln Myers may aid the cause next year with a planned fast at the Hall of Justice, as he did 20 years ago to protest alleged PNM corruption, a move which served the NAR in good stead then.

But unless either political party bites the bullet where its respective issues are concerned, the increasing crime problem might well spin off not only an increasing awareness among the population—but much worse.


©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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