Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Deadly consequences

AT the time of writing—Saturday—the country's murder figure stood at 141 for the year, according to the Express.
Given the trend, there is a grim assurance that by this morning the figure would be even higher. Over the past weeks, as if motivated by the famous lines of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the English political theorist who wrote that in “a state of nature” the life of man is a condition of war of “everyone against everyone”, and life then is “solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short”, I asked, quite randomly, almost everyone that I met the question: “Instead of evolving, has our society regressed into a state of savagery?”
Last week I felt I should solicit the views of a couple of retired senior officers of the protective services. Their individual answers were noteworthy; their responses were firm and definitive, at times seething with a quiet anger, but when pieced together there was common agreement.
“As predicted, blood flows in the streets, but over the past five years, the door was left open and, I believe, deliberately. T&T's porous borders were left unsecured, and members of the Partnership government must tell us why. As a retired senior officer, I can say the motives were for political advantage and their agents' financial gain… today certain former ministers have to be held accountable,” one said.
Another added: “For years, T&T had what we called 'a rubber ducky navy'; we pleaded with every government for vessels. Just as the UK firm BAE was about to deliver the first of the three Off-Shore Patrol Vessels, the PP government cancelled the order, on the weak grounds of construction delays and a problem with the guns but, as reported then national security minister John Sandy had no problem, but he was 'trumped' by other voices in, and around the then cabinet.
“You want honesty! The blood, the guns, the murders can be traced right back to the Partnership government's cancellation of the OPVs five years ago…three months after they took office.”
Probably the strongest defence of the Partnership government's performance may have come from then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in a 2011 interview. She charged the then opposition PNM with causing the rising crime wave.
“The PNM didn't just preside over the worst period of crime in the nation, they created the problem through funding the so-called employment initiatives to so-called community leaders who took the funds, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayers' money, in exchange for political patronage, purchased drugs and weaponry and created the problem we have today. That is what we inherited!”
A different story came, however, from US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2011. The report said: “The new (Partnership) government has de-emphasised regional efforts and assistance programmes, including some security-related projects that would impact the counter-narcotics efforts to focus greater attention on domestic issues.”
The report lamented that the Partnership government had “no plans to supplant that (OPVs') deep-water patrol capability in the short-term”, adding that “the government struggles to co-ordinate and implement its drug control assets, maintenance issues, corruption and gaps in the legislative framework remain challenges.”
A further defence of the Partnership policy came in 2014 from Gary Griffith, then national security minister, who said his government cancelled the OPVs because they were square pegs in round holes, and he promised then to build “a marine wall” around T&T, complete with response capabilities.
Although eventually receiving a $1,382 billion settlement from BAE, because the three OPVs were sold immediately to the Brazilian navy, the Partnership government eventually borrowed a further $1,358 billion in 2015 to purchase 12 vessels—four patrol vessels, two fast crew supply vessels, and six interceptors—from the Dutch Damen Shipyards.
Comparing the purchase with the three OPVs, Colm Imbert, now Finance Minister, described it back then as a “limited and inadequate acquisition”. The retired officers say Imbert was right.
Trying to contain their anger, they maintain, sadly, that “blood flows in our streets” because for five years someone left our border doors open.
—Keith Subero is a
veteran journalist