New York City, NY
In a recent T&T Guardian article, columnist Raphael John-Lall wrote: “The Government has spent $54 billion on the country’s national security over the last eight years, with at least $828 millions of that figure going to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), yet citizens are gripped by fear and forced to watch over their shoulders in their homes and public spaces as criminals have become more brazen in their attacks. Not even babies and toddlers are escaping the gunmen’s fire. Even National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, in an exclusive interview, has declared to the Sunday Guardian that he understood the trauma and fear that citizens are living under and said the Government was working on solutions.”
According to the Inter-American Development Bank, “murders, shootings, wounding and domestic violence cost T&T more than $6 billion in 2022”, or, about 4.0 per cent of GDP. It would serve us well to ask: what are the underlying causes for the unrelenting rise in crime? Why are we failing to stem the rise? And what could be done to get better results for the monies being spent?
Individuals commit crimes for various emotional and financial reasons some of which are referred to as white-collar crimes. The former typically involve mostly friends, acquaintances or family members. The latter commit crimes for reasons related to poverty, drug dealing, business disputes. Unlike crimes of passion most crimes are committed by youth ages 14 through 17 and adults ages 18-45. The TT Children’s court reported that for the period 2018 - 2022 an average of 443 criminal cases were filed against children for each year.
During the period February 2018 through May 31, 2022, 1,771 criminal cases were filed against youth ages 7 to 17. A widely accepted and vetted facet of criminology, known as the “Age Crime Curve”, indicates that across continents and centuries crimes tend to peak in the late teenage years, with a sharp drop off by adults in their 20’s, and declining significantly for adults in their 40’s. T&T’s population of males and females within the age groups of 10 to 45 historically average a total of about 600,000 individuals.
If the major reason for committing crimes is financial gain, the T&T government (GORTT) should consider offering a financial incentive for all citizens between ages 10 through 45 for the promotion of good citizenship free of crime. The benefits of the Good Citizenship Financial Awards (GCFA) program would be as follow: Lower overall crime prevention costs; reduction of crimes committed in both the short and long terms periods; mitigation of society’s fear of crime; reduction in overall poverty; improvement in educational achievement within poor and under-achieving communities.
GORTT would offer citizens ages 10 to 44, a $100,000 bond with a 20-year maturity period for everyone. The total cost would be US$2.67 billion in 2023 dollars. This represents the present value of TT$60.0 Billion (600,000 X $100,000) in year 2043 dollars (assuming the programme starts in 2023) discounted at a 6.0 per cent rate of interest based on an estimated average GORTT long-term cost of funds.
GORTT would allocate the afore-mentioned US$2.67 billion from its current Heritage Stabilization Funds (HSF) for this purpose. There would be no need for an immediate draw down of the HSF: A set-aside allocation specifically for this purpose would not negatively impact T&T’s financial balance sheet or, the nation’s credit ratings.
To qualify for final payouts at maturity in year 2043, individuals would be required to meet the following standards:
(1) A crime-free record during the 20 year period;
(2) For ages 10-18, one must graduate from a GORTT approved high school with educational qualifications to-be-determined by the GORTT: number of passes, etc.
(3) Distributions from Bond proceeds at maturity must be utilised solely for the following purposes: higher education, starting a business, retirement or medical expenses for oneself or immediate family (mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter).
(4) Funds cannot be accessed prior to the 20-year maturity period.
(5) In the event of one’s death, a beneficiary family member would be eligible for a distribution of bond proceeds beginning in year 20 provided the beneficiary meets requirements for use of proceeds as specified in (3) above.
The benefits of the programme would be as follow:
Reductions in crimes by youth who would lose what for them would be a guaranteed substantial life savings, that would also help alleviate family poverty;
A guaranteed financial nest egg would help to level the playing field for poor families due to better educated youth and a guaranteed future family nest-egg especially for larger families;
Although citizens ages 1 through 9 and ages 45+ would not benefit immediately from the program, less overall crime and associated costs would accrue them and the nation each year. As the programme progresses every citizen would eventually qualify for the program and would benefit financially and socially from the programme beginning at age 10;
Parents would have an incentive to be involved to a greater extent with their children’s education and in reinforcing crime-free lifestyles.
Many would object to the programme’s cost and affordability considering current government expenditures and at the thought of designating the HSF as the source of funding for the programme. However, one must ask: What is the greatest threat to the nation’s social and financial security? My answer would be spiraling crime rates and associated costs that have continued unabated since year 2000.
It should be noted, that as bonds mature many, if not most, individuals would probably not immediately draw down their entire nest-egg. As a result, the impact on the HSF could be greatly minimised.
Further, the projected US$2.67 billion is relatively small in relation to the current $6.0 billion annual cost of crime to government, T&T businesses, T&T families impacted by personal losses and to the society in general due to curtailment of their activities and increases in personal financial protection costs for their homes, autos and other possessions
For many, this would be a radical program and object simply on that basis. What are the viable alternatives? Both governments have tried everything else at great expense without success. Many are calling for increases in numbers of police, courts, jails, judges and more powerful arms to fight the criminals, which would add to the permanent fixed costs of national budgets. Moreover, our freedoms and civil rights are under threat with calls for workable government solutions, that resulted in a recent recommendation by the Attorney General for suspension of the right to trials by jury for certain cases to help alleviate court backlogs. Crime dictates our national and personal agendas at great costs for everyone.
I am a former entrepreneur with 40 years in the financial services industry on Wall Street, New York, and as a ten (10) years investment asset manager for the Unit Trust Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Growth and Income and Equity Funds, I have conducted seminars throughout the country: Chambers of Commerce, Credit Unions and business associations. And, lectured on investments and personal and family financial planning.
I have abiding interest in the welfare of my beloved country and the economic wellbeing of my fellow countrymen. I also have immediate family and friends in Trinidad who live in fear for their well-being and personal properties. T&T are endowed with ample resources and human potential that cannot and must not be allowed to be wasted. Citizens should heed Dr Martin Luther King’s dictum:
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”