What if every citizen were handed a cheque for $300,000? That may have been possible if we did not have to spend over $300 billion on national security and anti-crime initiatives since the year 2000 when murders were last under 100. National security is now costing us $17 million a day, but what do we have to show for it?
At the beginning and end of his 2013-2014 budget statement, Minister of Finance Larry Howai listed a total of 43 Government achievements. Not one was connected to the fight against crime. Understandably, the annual budget statement is not the place to detail an anti-crime strategy or to provide progress reports on the various national security initiatives undertaken by the Government. At the same time there seems to be no public place in which that accountability is available. A moderate reduction in the number of murders is not a measure of success, but 280 murders is a measure of failure. Data will help to give all this anti-crime and national security spending some level of accountability.
We know the Police Service has a two-page 2011-2013 strategic plan that says each strategic goal will be detailed in a work plan by each division, and tracked for progress through quarterly and annual reports made to the Commissioner of Police. It would be useful if we could, for example, know how the Police Service has done in its goal to “optimise the use of technology and information management”, one of 52 goals in the strategic plan, all of which have no measurability. Technology is crucial to any modern crime-fighting apparatus, and has been talked about endlessly. But no one knows how technology is deployed in the Police Service, what are the results, how cost-effective it has been, and how it has made the service more effective in the crime fight.
Typical of the annual budget statement and accompanying documents, the lack of comparative data and reporting on past promises and projects make the material unhelpful.
This year a paragraph in the minister’s 2014 Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) challenged the reliability of his own projections. In the PSIP the minister confesses that ministries and departments failed to comply with the requirements of his March 2013 circular to submit their resource requirements for 2014 to 2016. It means that the resource requirements set out in this PSIP are “significantly understated”, hindering the capacity to assess the true requirements of each ministry.
In real terms, it means that while the ministries have requested $31 billion, $18 billion and $10 billion for development projects for 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively, this is less than the recent annual average of $30 billion, suggesting that the drop in resource requirements is not caused by the closure of development gaps, but by bureaucratic slackness.
National security and the anti-crime plan are their own tales of woe. Over a decade since the E999 Rapid Response was established, it is still promoted as an anti-crime initiative. Thirteen years after then minister Brian Kuei Tung talked about 200 new vehicles and 12 police stations, these are still anti-crime measures mentioned in the budget statement. And exactly one decade ago the Government laid out anti-crime measures like increased police presence in “hotspots”, new police stations, more patrols, new vehicles, and more community programmes. These have not worked. They have not helped. They have cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions, and life in 2013 is not safer, more secure, or more stable.
There’s more money and more development activities for the State’s security apparatus for 2014 to 2016, though evidence of past success remains absent. The Coast Guard has another $300 million for protecting the maritime boundaries, just as Express journalist Mark Bassant has exposed the porous nature of the border and the complicity of various persons paid to protect and enforce the law. Between 2014 and 2016, the Air Guard’s four helicopters and six support craft will gobble half a billion dollars in maintenance and support. The Regiment and Prisons will consume another $300 million, and we have not even considered the half billion allocation to the Police Service in just the PSIP for the next three years.
All told, the combined “community initiatives”, Coast Guard, Air Guard, Regiment, Prisons and Fire Services, and the Police Service have failed to create a sense of citizen safety, security, and confidence in both the political plans for national security and the impact on the ground.
To Minister Howai’s credit, at page 28 of his budget statement he points to the sacrifices the country has to make to sustain this anti-crime and national security spending. Of course, considering the Partnership’s spending, it is clear that Minister Howai’s colleagues have been happy to go along with the constant outpouring on various crime-fighting initiatives, without regard to their effectiveness, and without need for full accountability.
In his statement that taxpayers are now spending billions of dollars to protect themselves from a deviant group of citizens determined to engage in violent criminal activity, Minister Howai behaves as though his Government has just arrived on the scene of this “crime”. His increased police presence, highway patrols, improved police capacity, border strengthening and CCTV are not different from the offerings of past PNM and UNC ministers of finance and national security.
His National Security Minister’s challenges are no different from ministers Theodore, Chin Lee and Joseph’s and, given the package outlined in the 2013-2014 budget statement, Minister Griffith will be compelled to move the anti-crime strategy beyond this now mundane matter of more police, more vehicles, and more police stations.
If Minister Griffith beats the odds, he could have my $300,000.
• Clarence Rambharat is a
lawyer and a university lecturer