IT did not take T&T social media creatives long to reverse vowels in Finance Minister Colm Imbert's “riot” statement of November last year to make the word “roti” and take it on a comedic journey. One year later, the same inversion has converted T&T's riot police to “roti police”, symbolising at once the low esteem in which some sections of the public hold law enforcement and the population's resort to derision as a primary coping strategy.
Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen's argument in Parliament on Tuesday that two marked police vehicles and four police officers posted daily outside a highway roti shop is inefficient use of police manpower has fired the public's imagination but has yet to elicit serious response and action from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). While Senior Superintendent of the Central Police Division Kenny McIntyre described Senator Ramdeen's comments as “mischievous”, he provided little else by way of relevant explanation.
Meanwhile Senior Superintendent Highway and Patrol Branch Basdeo Ramdhanie told the Express that only one police vehicle and two police officers are assigned to that duty, furthering the ironic humour. The day Mr Ramdhanie's response was published in the Express, another newspaper was confirming that on Wednesday there were indeed two police vehicles and four police officers at that posting.
Sprinkling salt in the flour was Senator's Ramdeen's allegation that a senior police officer vindictively initiated the police patrols as a disincentive to the roti shop's customers in an alleged reprisal for an unfulfilled request for free food. Already the butt of jokes derived from their alleged complicity in the escape of multiple fraud accused Vicky Boodram and the self-described “gap” in its intelligence operations that resulted in the Beetham Estate disturbance, the TTPS appears caught with its hand in the chulha.
Professional action from the TTPS would involve a brief internal investigation, instructions to issue traffic tickets and activation of police wreckers to impound illegally parked vehicles—the common law enforcement strategies in these instances—citations to the shop's owner if necessary, redirection of its human resources, reprimand of its seniors if applicable and a full accounting to the public.
Further kneading the issue is the disclosure by the shop's owner Guness Bhagwandeen that when he opened the highway food business in 1981, the Ministry of Works constructed a lay-by to facilitate his customers. The named ministry owes the public an explanation if this is indeed accurate. State resources used to facilitate a single private enterprise demands investigation, action and public reporting on how tax dollars are utilised.
Beneath the mocking jokes, the population must be feeling that what at first cut sounded funny has in two days become water more than flour. The public would be justified in chomping its bit for accountability in order to stave off the bad taste this issue is already leaving in their mouths.