It would be surprising if the National Security Minister and his phalanx of officials heard anything that they did not already know at the ministry’s crime consultation on Tuesday.
For decades, tackling crime with a “whole government approach”, as Minister Young put it, has been the most consistent recommendation from various committees of experts who have examined the problem. Indeed, this is exactly what the People’s National Movement (PNM) promised over four years ago in its 2015 election manifesto when it pledged to “adopt a whole-of-government approach to national security” in which all ministries and agencies would “share responsibility and be accountable for the security and safety of the State.”
For the 2,000-plus lives that have already been lost since this Government took office in September 2015, the failure to fix the problem of crime through an integrated, multi-sectoral “whole government” approach is a promise fatally unfulfilled.
The real value of the ministry’s public outreach was the Government’s acknowledgement that it needs help. This is a sharp reversal of attitude by a Government that came to office confident in its ability to “rescue” the population from crime. Clearly chastened by the steady climb in murders over the four years of its administration, and facing a general election in a few months’ time, it is belatedly attempting to engage the public. Public engagement is never a bad idea but it is hard to see what more than public relations can come out of Tuesday’s event given the long record of consultations and recommendations that governments have failed to convert into effective action.
In mid-2017, the promising IDB-funded programme, “Project Reason”, which is based on the Cure Violence intervention model, was prematurely terminated for administrative reasons. Similarly, the Citizen Security Programme in which so much was invested, is reported to have been scaled back due to lack of funding. Both were interventionist strategies targeted at hotspot areas with gang crime. For the Government to be talking about developing a “whole government approach” at this stage of its tenure is nothing less than shocking. What, then, was the PNM referring to in its manifesto when it promised early action to “tackle emerging problems before they become serious and entrenched” such as “programmatic and strategic prevention, intervention and suppression activities that target …guns, drugs and gangs”? Or “pro-social development strategies towards preventing any young person from becoming involved in offending behaviour” and an “aggressive public outreach campaign on effective strategies to combat juvenile violence”?
It is good to summon communities but where is the decentralised, community-based crime-fighting strategy that was promised with the “establishment and operationalisation of Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs)”?
We note Minister Young’s report about participants at Tuesday’s consultation zeroing in on the T&T media’s front page coverage of crime, in contrast to media in other tourism-based economies of the Caribbean which de-emphasise crime coverage. To that we can only say that the media reflects the priority agenda of the societies in which they operate and that when it comes to Trinidad and Tobago, no one can doubt that governance failures, not the media, have made crime the number one priority of this society.