An insistence on logic and law and the willingness of people to act on their own behalf have succeeded in stirring the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) out of the inertia that has converted many a State-housing project into a den of gang-related crime and community fear.
Yesterday, after repeatedly trying to duck its contractual responsibility to the residents of its Oropune Gardens community, the HDC finally surrendered and sent in crews and trucks to demolish illegal businesses and structures at the residential community. The action had been so long in coming that crime had already taken root in the area, with murders, theft and outright gangsterism.
It took the courage of a handful of residents led by Colleen Holder to challenge the HDC into action and turn the tide. In so doing, these residents have provided a template for citizen activism by other occupants of State housing who have fallen under the boot of the criminal elements.
Yesterday’s developments at Oropune Gardens demonstrate what is possible when people are prepared to stand up for their rights and engage the authorities. This is what empowerment looks like. It is a pity that it had to take a string of crimes, the presence of brazen gunmen and even murders for the HDC to take the basic action of enforcing the terms of its contract with occupants who were openly flouting the rules.
If it had done so from the first sign of deviant behaviour Oropune Gardens might have been spared the reputation of an emerging crime hotspot.
The HDC should embrace the Oropune experience as an opportunity to review the internal weaknesses that fuelled the loss of control that resulted in the situation getting out of hand. In particular, it should be anxious to understand why its regulatory capacity failed to kick in when the first breach occurred. Nipping a problem in the bud is the surest way of saving time, money and, in this case, lives.
Early action would have also signalled to every HDC homeowner exactly where the HDC’s line in the sand was drawn. In the absence of this, the most bold-faced residents were able to push the envelope as far as they did without fear of punitive action by the HDC.
Now that they have been forced to take action against those deemed to have breached the terms of their contract with the HDC, the authorities must be alert against the risk of reprisal. No one can afford to be innocent about the risk to those who have dared to speak out and stand up for their rights. Gangsters rule by terror and intimidation because their survival depends on silence, the silence of others and their willingness to look the other way.
The HDC’s actions must be under-pinned by effective policing to ensure the community’s safety against any threat of reprisal and to provide them with an enduring sense of security. The relevant authorities must work together to guide Oropune Gardens safely back from the brink to which it has been carried by criminal elements and institutional inertia.