By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 25, 2023
And so the monstrous, mindless, criminal madness continued on Wednesday with the “execution-style killings of three children and a 19-year-old in the crime hotspot of Heights of Guanapo”. This massacre also left five people wounded, two of whom are children. Yet the Government keeps calling for talks with the Opposition as if there were some magical elixir in that encounter.
Such a request was made recently when, in her inaugural address to the Parliament, President Christine Kangaloo listed crime as the primary danger to the country. She declared: “The urgency is obvious. The pain and the suffering are unbearable. These alone should drive parliamentarians to put aside their party rivalries, join hands across the aisle, and collaborate on how to stem crime and criminal conduct.”
Wish it were so simple.
The obstacle to such civility is inherent in the system itself. In the Westminster parliamentary system of government, the Opposition is considered “a government in waiting”. That is how it sees itself, and must always see itself. The only rationale for its existence is to become the next sitting government. There is never any incentive for it to help a sitting government to remain in power.
Apart from the Opposition’s disincentive of getting together with the Government to ensure any fundamental social change, the prime minister hit the nail on its head when he remarked: “I don’t have to tell you that one of the problems that we have in the country is a total lack of and loss of respect. And, as a result of that, after the way that first meeting [between the Government and Opposition] went, it was made quite clear that future meetings were not on, and they served no useful purpose.”
One of these days, the prime minister will have to ask how much he contributed to that lack of respect among the elected representatives of the people.
Our citizens also have to ask if we ever established among ourselves what Jean-Jacques Rousseau called the social contract in which we regarded ourselves “as a single body, [possessing] only a single will which is concerned with their common preservation and general well-being”.
Now the rubber has hit the road and social cleavages have begun to become more apparent. We bemoaned PNM’s failures in terms of the solution to the crime problem, but what does the UNC offer in its stead?
As much as one might be sympathetic to the travails of the Opposition leader, she ought to be a more innovative leader. She also needs stronger, more independent people around her.
I do not believe our electorate is racially polarised. While the PNM locates its base in the African section of the society and UNC among the Indian section, a fair number of citizens are willing to throw in their lot with any group that offers to improve the people’s social condition.
The UNC should ask why it has failed to attract the professional classes, the progressive intellectuals and what might be considered the intelligentsia and it’s not because “dey ’fraid Indians”. The UNC must also ask itself what it is about their central philosophy that keeps that vital segment of the population from buying into its message. It should also decide whether it accepts Lloyd Best’s political philosophy that the relevant division in our society is “tribe” or “ethnicity” rather than the Marxist categories of class division.
What does the UNC offer in terms of solving the crime problem? Its National Economic Transformation Masterplan, 2020-2025 (NETM) devotes three and a half pages to what it calls “National Security”. It lacks intellectual rigour and does not include the general public in its solution to reducing crime.
Apart from arguing that “the Rowley regime has been a total failure when it comes to the protection of our citizens”, it devotes two pages on its solution to crime. It does not speak about tackling the causes of our crime, and nothing it says would have prevented the carnage we witnessed on Wednesday.
In its Monday night meetings and press releases, the UNC has acknowledged that the murders in Guanapo reflected “a systematic breakdown of all institutions”. However, this observer would welcome a more defined approach to the crime problem by the UNC.
The prime minister says that he has spoken with the UNC about crime since 2015 but nothing came of it. “As Opposition Leader, I didn’t wait for people to tell me to cooperate with the government. I saw that as a responsibility to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
None of our political leaders has presented anything that attacks the fundamental causes of the crime problem. The use of dashboard cameras in all police vehicles, the building of judicial complexes quickly, the implementation of electronic monitoring bracelets, the re-establishment of the Ministry of Justice, the utilisation of UWI Debe Campus for the training of our protective services—proposals by the UNC—seem peripheral to the solution of our crime situation.
The UNC will have to do better if it wishes to solve the crime situation. If the NETM is all they can bring to the table, then they had better stay at home and continue to complain about the “total failure of the Rowley regime”, while the blood of our children stains the ground upon which we trod.