The latest responses of the current Government and the Commissioner of Police to the crippling wave of murder and violent crime are the lame products of two decades of denial and a current desperation to say anything that will deflect the pressing questions about crime.
The hard but unpleasant truth is that we have a long-standing crisis of leadership and a hard-wired unwillingness to face reality. We like it so, as long as there is power to be won and kept to facilitate huge sums of money being made in elite capture dealings with our governments.
In addition, the rulers can dismiss a population used to easy distraction by the proverbial bread and circuses—more aptly described in our context as freeness and fete. In those circumstances, accountability and caring are overthrown.
This leadership crisis, persistent deflection and the postponement of problem solving, afflicts all our governments.
The latest demonstration was last week’s announcement that the Government would consider “forming ‘vetted units’ within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, the members of which would be rigourously selected and would be paid extra to reduce police corruption”. (Trinidad Express 17 July 2023.)
My reaction was “here we go again”. This is an announcement of action of a type that failed before and is doomed again to failure unless the underlying constitutional and other obstacles to forming and maintaining such a unit are faced with intellectual honesty and shared with our US partners.
The Government also needs to demonstrate genuine care about what the hell is happening to us.
Put in historical context, the announcement is a reprise of the failures of previous units, such as SAUTT under the Patrick Manning-led PNM Government and of the recent one mockingly named SORT.
The various agencies, which the UNC/People’s Partnership Government tried to put together in the period between SAUTT and SORT, also failed while that Government mucked about with procurement of coastal patrol vessels. These acronyms are elucidated below.
The full name of SAUTT was Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago. Its formation was announced by then PNM Prime Minister Manning in 2004. SAUTT had been accused of spying on persons in public life.
After a change of government to the UNC/People’s Partnership, the new Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the disbanding of SAUTT in September 2010. There were many subsequent reports regarding the implementation of the disbanding in 2011, including reports that SAUTT officers would lose a $5,000.00 monthly allowance.
It was also announced in 2010 that SAUTT would be converted into a Central Intelligence Unit. There were later announcements that a National Intelligence Agency (NIA) would be established and fully operational by 1 September 2011.
It is in fact difficult to piece together the agencies, additional to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, which operated under the UNC/People’s Partnership government.
There was also a National Operations Center (NOC) initially established in 2011. Commander Garvin Heerah, now an insightful commentator, was the head of NOC for a relatively brief period.
We also cannot forget the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) from which Reshmi Ramnarine resigned in January 2011, after eight days as director. What a bacchanal that was—among the first of many that bedevilled the UNC/People’s Partnership Government before its defeat.
SORT was the acronym for Special Operations Response Team formed in November 2018. Its dismantling was reported in the Trinidad Express newspaper on 13 February 2022 and was said to be replaced by National Operational Task Force (NOTF).
Over the two decades, as I repeatedly urged our governments to treat seriously with violent crime and not empower gang leaders—accurately foretelling where neglect of the problem would take us—many issues with SAUTT were raised in these columns.
In addition, in a column published in the Trinidad Guardian on 6 June 2010, the late Dana Seetahal SC, former Independent senator, set out the history of SAUTT and plainly stated that SAUTT was not a legal organization and, despite explicit promises to set a legal framework for SAUTT, legislation was not presented and the status of SAUTT was never regularized.
We getting the same torn up khaki pants. Only the belt changed from red to yellow and to red again.