By Derren Joseph
December 05, 2011
Britain’s Channel 4 aired a documentary called Trinidad: Guns, Drugs and Secrets. On the night in question, I deliberately avoided watching it. The following day, as I signed onto Facebook, I saw links to it on so many profiles that I ended up watching the whole thing—twice. The two interviews that I found most interesting were the one with the resident from Laventille and the one with the Security Adviser to the Prime Minister. For me, these two represented the opposing sides of this ongoing debate over the state of emergency (SoE) and the current Government’s approach to crime.
On one hand, the Laventille resident was adamant that the SoE was implemented too superficially to make any lasting impact. Specifically, only “small fish” were being detained and as one was taken off the street, another took his place. He was critical of the silence over the role of the “big fish” that oversee the drug trade and walk around with false airs of respectability in the wider society. This is a sensitive topic given the $2 million in drugs hidden among car parts last September, and the $34.6 million in drugs hidden among chicken parts in another container this year. Neither of these incidents has led to an arrest. Bottom line—when the SoE is finally lifted, it will be business as usual as the enabling criminal infrastructure is left untouched.
On the other hand, the PM’s security adviser did make a good point. In every country, there are corrupt law enforcement officials, corrupt politicians and so on. Dealing with these issues takes time as institutions are reformed. In the meantime, the SoE serves to at least, slow down the murder rate in particular—a rate that everyone agrees is completely out of control. I agree with the views of both the Laventille resident and the PM’s security adviser as they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. My hope and my prayer is that the PM and her advisers have the courage to address the issues at their core. I say “courage” because we are talking about profound legislative changes and more importantly—an attack on our political culture itself.
Let me explain. I do not think that I am alone in believing that key to addressing the ongoing crisis of law and order, is addressing the ongoing crisis of governance—hat crisis of governance? I see a system where, despite the best intentions of well-intentioned elected officials, power and state resources are too often, mismanaged. This poor governance allows the breakdown in order and the relative unenforceability of laws. There is no need for me to describe what I mean by mismanaged resources. Rather, I would touch on three issues of governance that feed the crisis of law and order from which no one is safe—not even residents of the most well-protected gated communities.
Firstly, we must dismantle the ability of any ruling party to almost unilaterally make appointments to positions of national importance. These appointments must be opened to some level of public scrutiny, perhaps through the legislature. As I said in a previous column, given the control the ruling party enjoys, it may just be a formality, but it at least supports some level of transparency. A transparency which may help in preventing some of the clear mistakes we see today. Secondly, the Executive must institute and enforce proper mechanisms for awarding state contracts. No need to start from scratch, we have the recommendations of the $50 million dollar Uff Enquiry to guide us.
To date, these recommendations have yet to be meaningfully implemented. Removing the lure of easy high profile positions and the potential to get state contracts without a robust tendering process would be revolutionary. Why? Because businesses would be forced to invest in innovation and research rather than the easier path of funding political parties in return for access to the treasury. Thirdly, we need better “separation of powers” to free the legislature from executive dominance. The easiest way being to separate the role of Member of Parliament, from Minister. Constituents would enjoy more focused representatives and those who only crave the trappings of a ministry would be discouraged from putting themselves forward.
These three would not solve everything but it would severely disrupt the present political culture. A culture that supports poor resource management, allows if not encourages corruption and creates an environment where disorder and criminality by the “big fish” goes unpunished which in turn incentivises the “small fish”. Big fish ultimately cause much greater damage than small fish. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and my region. Despite our challenges, I have the audacity of hope in the future of our blessed land.