A matter of fatal attraction
To all intents and purposes, acting Police Commission Stephen Williams has accused politicians of colluding with gang leaders.
Responding to an allegation from Opposition Senator Pennelope Beckles that a known gang leader had been awarded a $2 million contract to construct a police station, Williams said, “The Commissioner of Police is responsible for the management of the Police Service and we have not given any contract to any gang leader and we will not give a gang leader or member.” He pointedly added, however, that he had no control over Government contracts.
And, when Housing Development Corporation managing director Jearlean John was contacted by the Express about the allegation, she said she would not do the work of a reporter and invited the Express to find out who received the contract to construct the police post. It therefore seems that Ms John either does not consider such issues to be part of her due diligence duties or that, if instructed by a Minister to give a contract to a particular individual, hers is not to question why.
If the top cop has his facts right, then he has confirmed what ordinary citizens have long suspected—that, as part of their vote-catching strategy, politicians have been funnelling State monies to known criminals. This was revealed more than a decade ago, when then-prime minister Patrick Manning met in a hotel with gang leaders to broker a truce between them so as to staunch the rapidly rising flood of murders. PNM spokespersons dubbed these men “community leaders”, with the late Ken Valley, then Leader of Government Business, arguing in Parliament that such people had to be treated with in order to maintain social order.
This strategy failed spectacularly, with the murder rate rising over 300 per cent over the next few years and all the gang leaders in that particular meeting being eventually murdered in their ongoing battle for turf and, it turned out, Unemployment Relief Programme contracts worth millions of dollars.
While the trade in illegal narcotics continues to be a key factor in Trinidad and Tobago’s high crime rate, there can be little doubt that URP and other government contracts have exacerbated the situation. Indeed, when he was a High Court judge, President Anthony Carmona had raised this very issue from the bench.
It is therefore not coincidental that, in the three Caribbean nations with the highest homicide rates—Jamaica, Belize and T&T—links between gang leaders and politicians is a common factor. And, to his credit, National Security Minister Gary Griffith is the first individual appointed to this post to speak about the problem. Whether his political masters will let him turn words to deed, however, remains to be seen.