Trinidad and Tobago seems to be lurching towards an undeclared war between the forces of law and order and a criminal element on the street and in the hills. For some time now, there have been reports that underground elements are acquiring powerful sophisticated guns which they will in time use in their confrontation with rival gangs and eventually with the state.
The sophisticated weapons that were displayed in the media earlier last week suggests that these reports need to be taken seriously.
It also appears that the State, speaking through the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and the newly appointed Minister of National Security, and a big slice of public opinion have lost patience with elements who repeatedly use their control of certain strategic street confluences to hold the public to ransom.
In the 2014 Budget, the Minister of Finance spoke little about social packages for the poor, but waved a “big stick” to warn criminal elements that enough is enough.
Howai argued that the State had provided a range of opportunities which young citizens could access to acquire training and certification, and thereafter decent and sustainable jobs.
These youngsters, mainly young black males, had however refused to make use of these offerings even when they were paid to do so, claiming that job opportunities were not available to them because they came from stigmatised environments.
Businessmen, he noted, complained consistently that they experienced difficulty finding labour. Many young men seem to want jobs rather than work. Given this, the State plans to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to crime and street violence. As he asserted, “This government will ensure that our streets are safe from the scourge of violent crime. In fulfilling this mandate, the emphasis will be on operational and preventative interventions.”
He also complained that “taxpayers were spending billions of dollars to ensure that young people are well educated (but ironically), the same taxpayers were being made to spend billions of dollars to protect themselves from a deviant group of citizens determined to engage in violent criminal activity”.
His views were reinforced by Senator Gary Griffith, the newly appointed Minister of National Security, who asserted that it was time to “cool down the hotspots”. As far as he was concerned, there had been “too much talk”.
It was time to “circle the wagons”.
Griffith argued that there was a gangster element which believes that chunks of the State belonged to them, and that no one could walk on their property without permission. As far as he was concerned, “That is madness! That will end. ... We have to seize those so-called hotspots and (give them back) to the citizens of our community. Citizens have a right to safety and security.”
Griffith declared war on crime, but signalled that as minister, he would wear uniforms and “boots on the ground” instead of suits. He, however, sees his job as working with everyone who had something to contribute, especially those who had to face the barrel of a gun. He also indicated that he plans to act pre-emptively to forestall crises.
“We need to take back control. You want to fight; you are going to get it,” he said in fighting words.
Griffith was warning dissidents that they will pay a price for their recalcitrance. Specifically, he indicated that he will not be dealing much with the “social aspects of crime”, though he conceded that it was important to do so. That was, however, a job for someone else.
Notwithstanding a seeming understanding as to who would do what, there appears to be an ongoing controversy as to who is responsible for producing crime plans. My uniformed sources advise me that responsibility for generating crime plans belongs to the police and not the minister whose role is essentially bureaucratic.
He is not a crime-fighter who gives orders to subalterns.
There have already been quarrels about who produced and who ignored which crime plan. For example, we note Jack Warner’s complaint that the Government copied his programme.
“They copied all of my proposals which I gave seven months ago. The only difference is that they have put $1 billion more on it.”
Ironically, Mr Warner used to project himself as being “hard” but now claims that Laventille does not need a “hard hand”. It needs the “soft hand of social and communal justice. ... What Laventille needs is a government to stand up in its defence instead of a government that treats Laventille as a bastard child.”
One of Warner’s promises is to bring “investors” into the area to create sustainable jobs. The problem, however, is that few people want to invest in areas that are so vulnerable to violence.
One does not know what will materialise in the next few weeks as the PNM and the UNC meet to decide on a concordat for Laventille which will continue to serve as the proverbial “Cockpit of East Port of Spain”.
Kamla is impatient to bring the hotspot problem under control, since crime was a key item in the manifesto of the Partnership.
Thus the choice of Griffith. As she herself explained, “What we wanted was to have someone with a military background who would drive the projects at a faster rate.” One can thus expect Griffith to work like a “lagahoo” to perform for his Prime Minister. In his anxiety to respond to scrutiny he will find himself in turf and mandate wars with the security professionals.
On can also anticipate quarrels between Griffith and Warner who regards Laventille as an important part of the image and legacy which he is trying to establish. He scoffs at the Partnership’s talk about Laventille’s needs, and “talk” about zero tolerance.
And of course there is Rowley who considers Laventille a PNM garrison. If he does not keep Laventille in the PNM camp in the coming municipal elections, he might as well say good-bye to the prospect of becoming the country’s next prime minister.