Friday, May 9, 2014

The Consequences of Crime and Corruption: Fighting against the New Normal

Of all the Caribbean islands I have visited Trinidad holds the most special place in my heart. Perhaps it is the friendliness of the people or the easy pace of island life, but for sure the cultural, racial and religious diversity makes it the true melting pot of the Caribbean as evidenced by the numbers who flock to the island each year for carnival.

Overshadowing the ease of life, infectious rhythms and carnival like atmosphere are the dreadful stories of crime and violence in the Caribbean’s most prosperous economy. The gruesome murder of former independent senator and legal luminary Dana Seetahal has sent shockwaves across the Caribbean. That there is little regard for the life of an outstanding representative of the law indicates the extent to which criminal elements are willing to defy the justice system.   

In spite of the numbness it has created, some Trinidadians have noted that this lawless mentality has been on the horizon for a while.  One Trinidadian colleague while not minimising the impact of the murder, argued that the country had been in great social decay for several years. He cited gang violence, the murder and rape of innocent children, aggravated robberies, human trafficking and corruption in government and the private sector as some of the problems.

As though the murder was not enough bad news, days after, a section of the media reported that one of the suspects was tipped off by someone inside the police force and had gone into hiding. If that report is indeed factual, it will have a telling impact on ordinary citizens. It will become increasingly difficult for them to place their trust in an entity which is supposed to serve and protect.

Trinidad thus faces the prospect of this type of crime becoming the new normal if not dealt with swiftly. Other Caribbean islands cannot ignore these developments since what affects one will in some way impact all. The question is how best can the crime situation in the Caribbean can be resolved?  The conventional method is to place more resources such as guns, vehicles and surveillance equipment in the hands of the security forces. While this works for a while it can be seen as simply stoking the fire with criminals equipping themselves with high calibre weapons and deepening complex networks within and across countries.

The situation can best be tackled with leaders across all sectors committing themselves to integrity, transparency, fairness and equality. While much of the focus is on blue collar crimes, much white collar crime in the Caribbean goes unreported and unpunished. Ordinary people who are not blind to abuses of power and profit making by those in authority will no doubt ignore the laws which are created mainly to regulate their activities.  

When corrupt officials partner with criminal elements the only result is the total disintegration of society.  Such examples can be found in oil rich Nigeria where an estimated 20% of the population enjoys 80% of the wealth with corruption between state officials, foreign oil and business tycoons being the norm. The kidnapping of some 250 young women and the relative impotence of the Nigerian government and army to have them returned has shocked the world, but not many Nigerians. The same could be seen with Jamaica and the Dudus Coke fiasco which forced the resignation of a top government official and cost many innocent lives.

Where there is a lack of values and principles, corruption spreads like a cancer.  When corruption becomes the norm violence flourishes and it does not discriminate against its victims. Worst of all the lives and future of young people are jeopardised. It will take a herculean effort for Trinidad to overcome this tragedy however the solutions are clear. Let us hope the leaders will set their house in order and begin the healing and recovery process for the country. Hopefully other Caribbean leaders are also watching on and are themselves making wrong things right.