What do the deaths of the siblings Faith Peterkin, 10; Arianna Peterkin, 14; Shane Peterkin, 17; and Tiffany Peterkin, 19, have to do with our national budget?
Does the death of Shazade Simon, the three-year-old who suffered burns in a cooking-related accident, have any relevance to our budget discussions? What about Andrea Lallan, 13, who identified a man who allegedly raped her in 2022 and was killed along with her uncle?
The knee-jerk reaction is that Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and Police Commissioner Erla Christopher are not doing their jobs. But can we consider what the newspaper photos have exposed in these situations? Can we reflect on our reactions to the dreadful news?
The newspaper photos exposed a dire picture of grave poverty. Squalor personified. One will struggle to describe the homes as more than shacks.
Have we considered the circumstances that would cause a parent to bring a child to a roadside vending situation?
Have we thought about the response of the Police Station officers who received the rape allegation and believed that the victim could be sent home? Or the way the corpses of Peterkin children were handled?
We can ease our consciences and blame Hinds and Christopher. It is easy to do that. Dealing with abject poverty upsets our manicured lives.
The nation now appears to agree with Patrick Manning, who described the 2003 killing of a young woman at Movie Towne as ‘collateral damage’. This characterisation eases our consciences. We fling the ‘poor parenting’ card. We collectively shrug.
Do nothing and forget about the loss of these young people within days.
Yet, a deportee can live comfortably in a rented US$5,000 home in Goodwood Park, and there is barely a squeak when he is taken into custody.
Did he, allegedly part of a transnational ring peddling cocaine, pass the ‘Know Your Customer’ hurdle for real estate transactions? Or was that test waived?
No neighbour said a word to the landlord? Yet we have many words of advice for the folk living in Laventille.
Deosaran and Chadee (1997) reported: “No ghetto youth has the connections and the resources to import the amount of guns and drugs […] on the streets. But most importantly, crimes committed by persons from the ghetto are sensationalised, overemphasised, and whole communities stigmatised, while crimes committed by members of the elite are ignored, not investigated and not subject to prosecution.”
Shadow told us: “Poverty is hell, and the angels are in Paradise/ Driving in their limousine where everything is nice and clean.”
The slain children came from homes at the bottom of the economic scale. These households represent the invisible 15 to 20% of our population. They do not appear at budget consultations. Our policies and practices push more of them into this state of nothingness.
Two leading newspapers recently splashed their front pages with photographs of nine dismissed workers. Were there any follow-up stories or analyses? Or were they selling the workers’ pain for sensationalism?
Have we studied where the killing monsters who live among us come from? The wealthy clamour for guns to blow out their brains. But what should the Peterkins’ mother or Andrea’s father have done? Is it acceptable for their children to die because they are voiceless?
We talk about school violence. We committed funds post-Covid to provide remedial classes for the SEA students. The students generally did not turn up.
What is next? What do we think the disruptive students become after leaving school? We ignore Senator Hazel Thompson-Ayhe’s 2009 warning that dropouts were joining gangs.
On 21 November 2018, then-Police Commissioner Gary Griffith prophesied that we will have 100,000 new criminals in the next five years. He said: “…If we do not deal with this situation now, in years to come, we will be outnumbered because of what we are seeing with certain young persons in society.”
He told us that the schoolchildren considered gang leaders to be “Robin Hoods”.
Hyperbole? Will our budget discussions address this matter? Or do we prefer to moan about crime?
What support systems do we create now that Covid-19 has exposed our fragile family situations? Have we done any audits on the money or vouchers provided? Where is the public policy research to help the targeting of struggling families?
In 2020, Minister Colm Imbert oversaw a programme to help small businesses weather the pandemic storm. The SME Stimulus Loan Facility was designed to help micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. That infrastructure is present.
Why is the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce included in consultations on channelling foreign exchange to this sector? Why should the solution take six months to be developed?
Will the SME sector survive that period? What of the families who are impacted negatively?
Will the Budget deliberations plug the holes that rob our poor in the health sector?
For example, in October 2013, Dr Fuad Khan disclosed that a racket was draining the expensive chemotherapy drugs to be used by poor patients from the St James Medical Complex and the Chaguaramas warehouse.
At the time, he said: “… a lot of cancer drugs, which are in the pharmacy at the St James Medical Complex […] find their way outside of the hospitals, in private medical practices.”
Poor people die because these drugs are stolen. The drugs do not find their way anywhere!
In July 2021, $2.5 mil worth of the same drugs were removed from the St James facility. Police officers suspected thieves may have stolen the drugs to supply to a private institution.
Dr Bodoe cried: “In circumstances where drug shortages can result from both lack of funding due to government budgetary constraints as well as supply chain challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this incident is […] worrisome.”
The NWRHA said it was pleased to reveal “approximately 99 per cent of drugs that went missing were recovered”, according to newspaper reports a month later. Nobody was charged.
Where did the Police recover these drugs intended for poor people? Everybody knows, but nobody knows.
Lawlessness creates more lawlessness, even among collar-and-tie folk. There appear to be different types of drug blocks in this country. Only a particular type gets raided.
But Shadow told us that some of us have a “bandit face” and will get a bullet in our “teeny-weeny leg”.
“Boy, things ent nice. Poverty is hell!”