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Fighting crime is a serious commitment

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With the presentation and Parliamentary debate on the 2006 Budget concluding today, no doubt the talking point over the next week or two will be the fiscal and economic measures contained therein and whether they serve the best purpose of boosting our economic well-being. Important though these are, they are but part of the overall picture. Underpinning any strategy of economic development is the preservation of law and order and ensuring social stability.{{more}}

In bygone years the issues of economic development and national security were not considered to be close relatives, but in more recent times it has been undisputedly demonstrated that there is a nexus between them with connections to other important social and cultural ingredients as well. Thus the best-laid plans and programmes for foreign investment and tourism development can flounder if a steep rise in unemployment or a demise in agricultural activity leads to a sharp increase in crime and drug-trafficking. Similarly these negative tendencies and related acts of anti-social behaviour can flourish in an environment of cultural bareness which leaves us prey to the worst excesses of foreign cultural penetration.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, not alone in this, mind you, is in danger of being trapped in this whirlpool. That is why a combination of sound economic and social policies is vital to support meaningful and stable development. But they cannot exist on their own. Already the rot has begun to set in the society and we need to address social and economic decay already manifested in our moral degradation.

Crime, violent and murderous crime at that, continues to be a major social problem and a potential threat to stable economic development. The lack of respect for law and order is reaching alarming proportions and touching all levels of society, and tolerance of these runs the risk of undermining our professed efforts to build a just, humane and even “Christian “society. If we needed a reminder, Prime Minister Gonsalves in his Budget address, listed the number of murders in our 110,000-person society as 117 in the five years 2000 to 2005. Alarmingly 25 of these he listed as unsolved and found little comfort in the fact of similar numbers in the preceding five-year period.

The Government has promised to “do all that is practicable to arrest the situation”. Bold words which must be backed up by firm action. Unfortunately there are many citizens like myself who do not think that on a day-to-day basis, this crime-boasting activity is taken seriously. Many of us believe, rightly or wrongly, that many of these “unsolved murders” are drug-related but the real drug lords of our society have too much room to maneuver. If the banana industry had as much room or enjoyed the level of tolerance as drug-trafficking, then our rural committees would still be wallowing in green-gold rather than decaying in clouds of white powder.

One can debate the pros and cons of marijuana smoking but there is little denying that ganja trafficking, like the far more dangerous South American commodity, has brought with it a culture of guns, revenge and self-justice. Most of the “bad men” on the streets have drug connections, we know it, the police know it, the Opposition knows it, the Government knows it. Why then do we read of Police giving chase to a youth outside Kentucky who was caught with a few grams of ganja in his pocket, when coke is openly peddled on our streets? How are we to arrest the dangerous connections and activities arising from the drug-trade?

If you couple that with the influence of the criminal deportees, the natural powerlessness to use capital punishment as a deterrent to murder (the social reformers should listen to the boasts of the would-be murderers) the glorifying of these activities in the media (if you see how the bad men lap up their photos in the papers) and the impact of all this on the youth, then we are in dire social straits.

If only our politicians could find the zeal to fight crime that they exhibit in their quest for office, if only they could resist the temptation at election-time to rely on “bad-man” for security, if our lawyers could only resist the money-laundering temptations, then we could talk of fighting crime. I mention the latter not just in relation to the men on the block but the white-collar “respectable” criminal with whom we socialize and next to whom we worship in church, but “su-su” with our neighbour on the telephone about their alleged activities.

Fighting crime is a serious a task as fighting poverty and unemployment. It is not for the Police, the Government or the Courts alone, we all must be involved. But they are on the front line and need to give us clear signals that they are serious if we, the citizens, are not to be left out on a limb. The Government must be commended for its efforts in improving the lot of the law-enforcement officials and providing the equipment and infrastructure which make crime-bursting easier. But it must not surrender the streets and allow a system of illegal justice to be enforced by the unlawful.