take T&T back from the criminals
The recent murders of Chinese couple Wu Xia Hua and Yang Jiang Hua during a robbery had nothing to do with their ethnicity. In a country that has all but accepted rampant criminal activities as par for the doing-business course, the Huas were victims of an often-bloody rampage against small commercial enterprises.
The Huas were part of a new wave of Chinese entrepreneurs who focus primarily on small groceries or convenience shops and restaurants. Statistics would show that such businesses that deal mainly in cash transactions are soft targets for brazen armed bandits. While scores of such robberies occur on a daily basis across the country, few are reported to the police, mainly those in which some level of violence is used.
What is tragic about this aspect of crime is that the targets are mostly low-income people who see and exploit opportunities for establishing micro-enterprises, bringing goods and services closer to residential communities. Because they are small, they cannot afford to install security devices or hire security guards. Indeed, many of these small enterprises operate on the basis of trust in the communities they serve—a trust betrayed by devious elements within and violated by predators from outside.
Unbridled crime is of concern to all citizens, and definitively a disincentive to business activity of all types, from large manufacturers to supermarket and retail chains. But for many reasons it hurts hardest when criminals strike at will at small operators. They are invariably family-owned and operated enterprises, with their marginal profits being the only source of income, or augmenting paltry pay packages of employed family members, if any.
While such microenterprises may appear to be inconsequential to macro databases like GDP and the Retail Trade Index, we feel sure that given their reach in just about every community across the country, they do have a positive impact on employment, on alleviating poverty, and on general economic activity. As such, they require more than the token assistance on offer as an appendage to the Ministry of Labour.
One way Government can help is by providing incentives for such establishments to upgrade themselves into "cash less" operations, hence minimise their exposure to banditry. This would entail the introduction of debit cards processing terminals, with all the technology and infrastructure required.
We are not suggesting that Government introduce yet another "handout" to its already bulging bag of goodies. Nor are we implying that cash transactions can be eliminated in business activities. We however note that high volume sales vehicles that were once easy targets for bandits have resolved this problem by accepting payments by cheques or debit cards. Indeed, some companies have painted signs on their fleets advising that their drivers and sales people carry no cash.
Transforming the more vibrant of these tens of thousands of small commercial establishments into "cash less" operations would help reduce criminal attacks on them. But it would hardly have an impact on overall crime since the bandits and murderers would likely shift their focus to residential properties that are already under siege. Which brings us back to the core challenge: government and the law enforcement agencies must devise strategies and tactics to deal with the scourge of crime.
Outside of the global and local economic slowdown or recession, call it what you will, crime has had the biggest negative impact on business activity over the past decade or more. The cost of protecting businesses and private citizens runs into billions of dollars a year. Most commercial and private properties have some measure of "burglar proofing", which costs. Many have added alarm systems and CCTVs that are costlier. And those that can afford it hire round-the-clock security services at huge expense.
No country can continue to bear this awesome burden indefinitely. If, by some magic, we could eliminate the cost of crime, this country would thrive even in the current economic environment. All that we have said here tells us that for our overall well-being, we must take back our country from the criminals.