Another New Year’s Day, more promises. On New Year’s Day 2013, the Prime Minister declared 2013 the “Year of Collaboration”. It was not. Crime was her top priority. No one feels safer. Child abuse and domestic violence were her two areas of great concern for 2013. Her Government did nothing on domestic violence and 2013 ends with fiery death and a timely reminder of that unfulfilled promise. And, 11 months into 2013, the death of little Keyana Cumberbatch finally pushed the PM to act on child abuse, prompting the appointment of a Child Protection Task Force early in December. With unfulfilled promises all around, 2014 will likely start with a few more.
With the four elections in 2013, those New Year promises quickly had more for company. In 2014 no election is due but all politicians will be prepared, just in case. The PNM and UNC will have internal elections that will set the stage for the next parliamentary election. With the fate of about 30 of the 41 constituencies predictable, attention will eventually settle on 11 key constituencies and a significant number of new, young, and undecided voters within these constituencies. What looks like a straight UNC and PNM showdown narrows the choice so in 2014 the focus is on those voters who will swing the results one way or the other. Those voters more than any else will sift through pre-election and post-election promises to see whether to vote or to stay at home.
In 2013, potential dog attack victims were the subject of proposed legislation. Victims of domestic violence and abused children were not as fortunate. On both domestic violence and child abuse the PM’s record is weak. Since she piloted the current Domestic Violence Act in 1999 in her previous stint as Minister of Legal Affairs, the problem of domestic violence is unchanged. For 2013 nothing has happened on domestic violence. The hands-off approach of the police to domestic violence remains the same. The lack of specialised social support services remains the same. And the lack of confidence in the restraining orders when they are granted remains the same.
On the legislation to secure children, the Act awaits proclamation, and even then it will require major changes to ensure that the requirements of the legislation are met. A fundamental flaw in the approach to the rights and safety of the child is the failure to establish the school as the focal point for protecting children and facilitating access to resources and support. Teacher training and involvement, more than any other resource, is critical to the safety and well-being of children. That remains a work in progress.
In her statement at the start of 2013, the PM also cited crime as her top priority for 2013. She ends the year with over 400 murders, most still unsolved and likely to remain that way. As the families of two murder victims now lament the lack of an arrest in the crime, the Jericho Project prepares for its 2014 “Akiel Chambers Justice for Children March”, an annual march in support of action against child abusers. Fifteen years after Akiel’s death, the lack of action on at least one person of interest embodies the notion that in this country some shall escape.
At no point during 2013 the PM or the Police Service showed themselves comfortable with their approach to crime. The Government shifted through three ministers of national security. They “launched” the already existing Highway Patrol and Rapid Response units. They reiterated, rehashed, and recycled every anti-crime measure suggested over the last 15 years. The list is well known, the lack of success evident: more police stations, more vehicles, more patrols, more officers, more training, and more money. The result? More crime.
And, this Government like every one before, has made no headway on money laundering. Through the financial services sector, millions of tainted dollars are flowing, this windfall fuelling the crime. Not one bank account was frozen. Not one major prosecution launched. Not one gangster stripped of the proceeds and neutralised in the fight against crime.
In 2013, the State made no prosecution deals. Since accomplice Levi Morris turned on Dole Chadee’s gang, no other gangster has bargained with the State. In search of the dead death penalty, defendants have walked free: dead witnesses, poor police work, breaches of fundamental rights, the list goes on. The State does not seem to care about any other approach to prosecuting crime, sentencing, plea bargaining, and taking criminals off the street without having to keep the hangman in suspense.
The last-minute establishment of the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) may have narrowly avoided embarrassment for the country, but in November 2013 the Government had to go off to The Bahamas to save the country from even further embarrassment in what is becoming a stalled anti-crime offensive. The country is non-compliant or only partially compliant on significant anti-money laundering commitments.
At the end of 2013 the homes and streets of Trinidad and Tobago are less safe. The State has a large footprint in the economy, and one outcome of that is a transient “economic class” that lasts as long as its political sponsors. In 2013 the political millionaires became more visible. With serious questions at National Quarries, PTSC, WASA, T&TEC, CAL, CEPEP, the Airports Authority and several others, behind each question lies a political appointee or friend thereof. And, emboldened by the slow hand of the law and the quick pace of political turnover, the political noveau riche moved quickly, and successfully. 2013 solved no corruption problem, and saw more and more of the same.
Into 2014, the next parliamentary election will be the main topic. The choices will be the same as 2010. The issues remain the same. The attitude of the new, young, and undecided voters will be the variable factor, especially in the 11 key constituencies. Expect more promises. Happy New Year!
• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer