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Noble: Wheels within Wheels; how crime flourishes with a malnourished public sector

Nobody wants to live in fear. Nobody wants to lose a loved one to crime or be victimised. 

The pain ricochets through the community as others experience the wrenching loss that descends on us in sudden ways. Most believe that the government is responsible for public safety. But our reactions tell a story of confused leaders with incoherent answers. 

Photo: Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds (right) and acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob.
(via TTPS)

In the last week, despicable ethnic blame has surfaced in its crudest form. We feed the beast of crime by failing to consider the root causes. It is not sufficient to claim that our anti-crime strategies have failed because the truth is we have been doubling down on one option.  

Firing the hapless Minister Fitzgerald Hinds may appease some, but the root causes preceded him and will remain long after his departure. Many believe that more laws and severe penalties are needed because crime represents a moral failure on the offender’s part. Sanctions undoubtedly do work and are necessary, but socialisation is mainly the job of our primary institutions such as the family, the church and the school. 

As Dr Martin Luther King encapsulated: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, religion and education will have to do that—but it can restrain him from lynching me.”

Empirically, we can see that longer prison sentences, with their appeal to vengeance, do not help reduce crime, since much crime is opportunistic and committed by people who live moment to moment. 

Photo: Police apprehend a young man in Los Angeles.
(Copyright Channel4.com)

Some offences occur as unusual acts in generally law-abiding lives, while others are recurring events in generally antisocial lives. Effective crime prevention must take account of critical differences between crimes and criminals.

In our crime discussions, a significant insight  by the bard, ‘the child is father to the man’, goes unheeded. 

Interventions that improve parenting skills, children’s physical and mental health and school performance, and reduce risks of child abuse are likely to reduce later offending. 

As a nation, we ignored an opportunity to change the course of events when Dr Tim Gopeesingh commissioned a 2013 study on the poor neurological development of our children. Despite MP Patricia McIntosh’s query, that study disappeared like a stone dropped into the sea. 

At the time, we were too enamoured with buying computers. 

Photo: Tim Gopeesingh, former MP for Caroni East and minister of education.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament)

The study had revealed that, based on a pilot study of 3,000 students at pre and primary levels, we had 56% and 78% not processing information at the target level. The raw number of that primary school cohort is eight times the size of the current tertiary student cohort.

We are perpetuating inequality from primary school right up to the postgraduate level. We are not only taking from the poor and giving to those who can afford it; but we are feeding crime.

The struggle of our young continues, but now we talk about firearm licences and John Wick cartoon characters. The 2013 generation is now ready to bear arms against us. So we, the decent members of society, will authorise killing or jailing them. Do we care? 

Will we admit that Mr McDonald Jacob’s solemn observation about young criminals aligns with Mr Griffith’s 21 November 2018 prophecy? 

Photo: Police officers interact with children on the playground.
(via TTPS)

Mr Griffith then said: “[…] It is really important for us… to look at secondary [school] crime prevention…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. 

“They are looking up at these individuals… seeing them as the Robin Hoods…”

Both men echo Raffique Shah’s 2011 declaration, ‘we simply do not have the manpower to deal with what we are up against…even if they rotate their crime clampdowns, they face mission impossible’. 

The woes at the Siparia West Secondary School is a grim harbinger, given the south-west peninsula’s human trafficking woes and desultory policing. 

In unserious ways, we ignore the cries of the Director of Public Prosecution and the acting Police Commissioner. We have starved the former’s office for decades, even while increasing their workload. Now we chose to flood the courts with lawsuits that complicate and distress the lives of these prosecutors. 

Photo: Director of Public Prosecutions
Roger Gaspard SC is a man with a mission made difficult, if not impossible.
(Copyright Roger Jacob/ Trinidad Newsday)

We prefer antics to the solid analyses provided this week by Mr Jacob. Yet, we proclaim that the strategies are not working. How could they?

The inflow of problems is more than can be reasonably processed, so the system collapses. But some will become rich while others will die. 

For our young, 50 Cents sums it up: “Get rich or die trying!”

This situation compels us to address the burning question: in what kind of society do we wish to live? 

We cannot countenance bribing the police officer and still expect him to combat attacks against the person. We cannot take partisan positions because of our desire for political power and expect the criminals to respect us. 

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(via TTPS)

They do not care what colour shirt we wear or wave. We cannot contribute to ineffective and inefficient government practices and magically expect some parts to work well. We cannot rob the State of income and expect it to defend us. That hope is unrealistic. 

We have not developed a policy capacity to design and carry out policies and strategies that bring about sustainable economic development. We are good at discussing what to do, but we never discuss implementing it. 

This week, a classic example was the incomplete observation about the difference in the detection rates between the two islands. Observation is a fifth form level chore; we need much more at a national level. 

Implementing is done by the people in organisations. Those people have their values, as well as their legal and power bases. That is, they can act based on the regulations that govern their offices and they can act according to the power groups they represent. 

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (right) poses with then Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick at the re-opening of the Police Barracks ground in St James.
Fenwick stood to make millions from business deals with the TTPS through the Commissioner’s Cup, Bad Wolf Sport and Lavender Consultants.
(via TTPS)

The latter is a broader enabling factor. This factor is facilitated by their ability to cobble together a coalition. They are also influenced by the interactions they may have with other organisations.

Our environment leads to questions about administrative capacity. Can the public service leverage its resources to achieve the policy goals? Have we ever stopped to consider how this may be done? 

The policy and administrative capacities are intertwined since both depend on institutional knowledge. To handle innovation in an organisation such as the police service, we have to ask how much money has been spent training the leadership cadre. 

With a $2 billion National Security budget (more significant than most private sector businesses), how do we expect excellence there without specialist training?

Photo: Police recruits enjoy a toast at their graduation ceremony in 2021.
(via TTPS)

Introducing private sector/non-police executives did not address the problem; these are specialist assignments. The game has changed from when our police officers walked around in short pants. We should not expect different results if we keep recruiting friends. 

The integrity of our civil (and police) service is more critical than in colonial times. Authoritarian impulses and obedience to the absent rulers controlled that era. Now, we have public servants as unheeded advisors to Cabinet ministers, who may be less capable but more powerful than them in the political context. 

Why deal with a permanent secretary when you could access the ultimate power broker? But then, how do we ensure that the system will work? 

Dysfunction becomes a feature as the highest bidder, or largest donor changes the outcomes. 

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley (centre) observe the Independence Day Parade on 31 August 2018.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

Why would any sane, competent person choose to be manipulated in exchange for a pittance by entering the public service? If our society values money above all else, what do we expect our graduates to seek upon graduation? 

When the nation plays ‘who wants to be a millionaire’, we should expect our public service to be denuded of talent and susceptible to corruption and a laissez-faire attitude. 

Are we not robbing ourselves of talent when we criticise unfairly those who choose to offer themselves for service? What do we do to natural justice when we use fancy, high-paying lawyers and accountants to pursue our cause? 

We badger the civil servants and still expect them to perform well on our nation’s behalf. That cannot happen. 

This watering down of the calibre of the public servants leads to overworked sacrificial lambs and unsatisfactory performances. This watering down of the public service leads to poor programmes and low societal compliance.

Photo: Poor customer service has often been a drawback of the public sector.

How do we escape this trap we have set ourselves? How will we get a safer and more progressive society? 

Fixing these core problems is essential. 

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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