Grim lesson for gov't

One year ago, in announcing a state of emergency, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared: “We have the will to tackle the crime problem in Trinidad and Tobago and the commitment to place every resource at our disposal towards waging and winning this war on crime.

“We will succeed. The nation will not be held to ransom by marauding groups of thugs bent on creating havoc on our society. The limited state of emergency in hot spots across Trinidad and Tobago is merely part of a larger aggressive reaction response by the Government.”

Last Tuesday, however, the newspaper headlines read: Seven more die. Those deaths occurred in just three days, between Friday and Sunday. Last year at this time, 11 murders within a five-day period precipitated the four-month-long SoE. To be sure, the Persad-Bissessar administration spun a different story, with Attorney General Anand Ramlogan stating in a media briefing that “the first immediate success I feel confident to note, quite separate and apart from the seizures and the arrests, is the fact that a crisis has been averted”.

Then national security minister John Sandy had also spoken about an undefined crisis, and told the country: “Fear of crime is one of the aspects we want to eradicate, and if we are successful in doing that, I would be happy.”

But the government to this day has not seen fit to provide any evidence about this supposed crisis, so many citizens remain sceptical that the SoE was justified.

In any case, by the government’s own criteria, the SoE was a failure. Citizens are still living in fear; the homicide rate has not dropped; and the nation is still in thrall to criminals. In March this year, responding to a question filed by the opposition, Sandy was forced to put figures to this failure: just 13 per cent of the 8,178 people arrested during the state of emergency had been convicted. Moreover, the categories of offences included not just serious crimes, but minor offences such as breach of curfew, failure to pay maintenance, and traffic tickets.

The benefits of the SoE, therefore, were short-lived and limited. By contrast, the negative effects appear to be persistent. There has been a drop in the already low trust of police. The economy, already slow when the SoE was declared, could not have benefited from such an extreme measure. The government, having used its most intensive weapon to no avail, has undermined its credibility. And the international image of T&T has suffered.

The SoE, therefore, was a massive misjudgement on the part of the Persad-Bissessar administration. And, while they would never admit this, we hope they have learned a valuable lesson from its failure.

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