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The terrible cost of crime

On the day after a weekend murder spree left eight dead, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, speaking in another country, put a dollar cost of crime to Trinidad and Tobago. It was an admission that her administration has not been able to get a handle on criminal activity. However, her solution proposed to the Caricom 24th Intersessional Summit would have little impact on crime locally.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar focused on tourism revenues, revealing that T&T loses more than $200 million a year because of crime. Overall, however, crime has a much larger economic impact on the country. A 2005 report from UWI, supervised by the late economist Dennis Pantin, estimated the recurrent cost of crime to the economy to be over $4 billion annually. This was the total of extra costs to the State, the private sector, and households for security precautions.

Yet even this economic impact pales in comparison to the social and psychological effects on citizens. With the murder rate averaging just over one per day, nobody can feel secure. Add to this regular incidents of robbery, assault, rape, and even noise, and, surveys of how happy Trinis are notwithstanding, the stress levels in the society must be continually high. Such an environment contains the seeds of its own destruction, bearing as it must the poisoned fruit of general mistrust between citizens and State, citizens toward each other, and an increasing tendency for persons, who might otherwise fear the law, to trample on other people's rights.

Only last week, several members of a family in Piparo were assaulted, allegedly because they had complained about an illegal chicken farm operating near their home. The police are reportedly sitting on their thumbs because they view the matter as a land dispute instead of an assault. The Environmental Management Authority (EMA), now best known for a 24-hour Carnival complaint hotline which was totally useless, has apparently been unable to enforce its own regulations.

This is how law and order breaks down: when citizens feel they have neither recourse nor protection from the State. Nor is public confidence helped when the Prime Minister appoints as National Security Minister an individual of dubious reputation who has since displayed a penchant for prevarication and simplistic solutions.

Since she was speaking to a Caribbean audience, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar naturally focused on a regional strategy. "I fear that we have found ourselves in a very serious situation and we are running out of time as the scourge of transnational crime is slowly taking over the region," she said. "The time has come, colleagues, for urgent and drastic action."

That may be so. But perhaps the Prime Minister should begin, like charity, with urgent drastic action at home.

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