Government and the T&T Police Service (TTPS) came under heavy fire from the public and critical thinkers for the country’s spiralling crime at a debate hosted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Wednesday.
The session featured politicians and opinion makers, including Energy Minister Stuart Young, Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes, CEO of the Heroes Foundation Lawrence Arjoon and economist Dr Marlene Attzs, who responded to questions from the public on topical issues.
The session, BBC World Question, was hosted by BBC’s Jonny Dymond at Central Bank Auditorium, Eric Williams Plaza .
Dymond introduced T&T as the most prosperous country in the Caribbean with a stable democracy, rich culture, valued natural resources and growing tourist industry.
“But it faces big challenges,” he said, listing crime, the trade in drugs and humans and the growing gang culture as some of the challenges.
Dymond said T&T was ranked sixth by the World of Statistics for being “the most criminal country” in the world and recorded its highest murder rate last year.
Turning to the audience, Dymond invited Rishi Mahabir to ask the panel a question. In a faint voice, Mahabir said his father, a farmer, was plagued by crime until he was murdered two months ago. He said a homicide officer was never assigned to the case. He asked the panel why past and present governments and the TTPS failed to address crime.
Dymond pointed out that last year Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had declared violence a public health emergency, noting that the BBC had received dozens of questions on crime before the debate kicked off.
Sympathising with Mahabir’s tragic loss, Young said: “Crime is an issue that affects everyone, unfortunately.
He added: “The responsibility falls to whoever is the Government in power,” Young admitted.
Noting T&T’s geographic proximity to South America, Young said the country faces a lot of transnational criminal activity.
“I can assure you we are putting a lot of resources behind it. Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not,” he said.
Young said as a citizen he is very concerned and he assured Mahabir that Government has been working with the TTPS and other arms of national security.
“Crime is something that is affecting everywhere in the world . . . but none of us wants to hear that. What are we doing about dealing with it right here in Trinidad and Tobago? We are trying to employ as much technology as possible, we are trying to boost the morale of the T&T Police Service. It is something that is a top priority for the Government.”
Young said the Government is trying its best to provide law enforcement with what they need. He told Mahabir he would make inquiries as to why no officer has been investigating his father’s murder, stating that was “unacceptable.”
In response to Young’s comments, Haynes said as a citizen it had been difficult in the last few years to be looking on at the escalating crime wave. She said Government has been putting resources into our problem without measuring its efficiency.
“We are already afraid. But what we aren’t hearing is that with the $5 billion put towards national security, or all of the interventions that are being proposed, we never hear at the end of the year or the end of a stipulated period any acknowledgement of what worked, what did not work or what could work better if we need certain improvements,” she said.
Haynes said despite injecting billions of dollars into national security year after year, nothing has worked.
“So we must have a progressive discussion and be focused on targeted interventions,” she said
Attzs expressed concern that the TTPS was seen as a panacea.
“I think that is not a healthy approach. The T&T Police Service is an institution and unless we look at whether or not that institution is appropriately resourced, I mean both in terms of their human resources and financial resources etc., then they will really not be equipped to address the kinds of challenges that we are seeing in Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.
Attzs added: “It is very apparent that the nature of crime has changed and therefore your institutional framework has to be one that adapts to suit that changing dynamic. And it is not simply a question about a budgetary allocation” Attzs said, but a return on the investment and the levels of efficiency delivered.
Arjoon said honesty, trust and meaningful collaboration are critical to building a safe and sustainable society.
“We do not have a society that trusts. And that is me being honest. And it starts from our leadership come straight down,” he said
Dymond asked Mahabit to share his thoughts as to why governments and the police have failed to tackle crime.
“I think it has a lot to do with corruption in the Police Service,” he said.