Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Of crimes and blunders…

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Mark Fraser

WE are familiar with the adage, “when your neighbour’s house is on fire wet your own”. Well, at this period of spreading gun-related crime and social instability in T&T, it may be wise to avoid rumours that could have dread consequences for the nation as a whole.

It is a favourite pastime for some people in various sectors and across the Caribbean to criticise the media for being “sensational” and “alarming” in their reporting of the news. Truth is, even professional media practitioners can at times fall short of best practice in seeking to fulfil their functions. 

Established, reputable media enterprises have guidelines on ethics and professional integrity. Unfortunately many, including major media houses, fell victim to the baseless coup rumours last Friday. At least they all carried a news item that had Communications Minister Vasant Bharath pouring scorn on the rumours and condemning the accompanying hysteria. 

Then there was DOMA president Gregory Aboud who had earlier created a problem when he came forward with the strange suggestion that the significant financial award (TT$3.5 million) being offered for the arrest and conviction of Dana Seetahal’s killers should be made available to the police who are themselves hunting for her killers. 

There is NO precedent for such a gesture either in this or any other Caribbean nation. What could have influenced Mr Aboud to make such a blunder? Why was it unquestioningly reported? 

What remains a cause for deep concern, not only among the people of Trinidad and Tobago but citizens across the Caribbean Community—all currently coping with anxieties and  challenges over the rampage of armed killers—is the failure by the security forces to  achieve a breakthrough of any significance in combating criminal networks armed with sophisticated weapons.

The discouraging failure by the security forces mock the oft-repeated assurances from officialdom and highlight the need for a serious new offensive.

For a start, the very informative 1,342-page report by the Commission of Enquiry into the failed coup of Yasin Abu Bakr’s Jamaat-al-Muslimeen could be a good source for crafting enlightened terms of reference for a special international probe. 

The wide-ranging assignment could extend to outstanding unsolved assassinations/murders; functioning of armed criminal networks and other elements engaged in unconstitutional activities and their sources of funding and arms.

And why not a mix of international, regional and national experts for such a probe? 

After all, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was so impressed with the work done by the Commission of Enquiry headed by Sir David Simmons that, in tabling the exhaustive report in Parliament, she waived her option to keep secret any part of the wide-ranging  assessments and recommendations outlined in a particular section. 

Incidentally, she currently has lead responsibility among Caricom Heads of Government for matters pertaining to crime and security. Trinidad  and Tobago is also lobbying to be the headquarters for the United Nations Small  Arms Treaty. 

This issue is among matters scheduled for discussion today at the meeting of Caricom foreign ministers in Guyana and  endorsement is expected to be forthcoming for T&T when the community’s leaders meet in July in Antigua.   

In the meantime, it would be interesting to learn what progress has actually been achieved in implementation of ANY part of the Simmons-led Commission of Enquiry’s wide-ranging report that extends into four volumes and a dozen chapters. It would be a travesty if it is left to gather dust in the relevant ministerial offices.