The Prime Minister has previously made casual references to violent crime being a public health issue. However, on Monday last, he stated that his “Government’s intention was to develop a national plan of action that would be driven by a public health approach [which] would involve the defining of the problem” by an inter-ministerial committee already formed.
In August 2019, when the concept of ‘crime as a public health issue’ was raised, I expressed the concern that the use of the phrase might be yet another acclamation of words without performance. That remains my concern and I am unable to welcome last Monday’s declaration as readily as sectors of our fearful society—like the domes and chambers of commerce—just because the crisis has been acknowledged.
It is a fatally belated acknowledgment and my concern has several other roots. In common with many, the announcement of yet another committee seems like a governance cop-out—particularly because so much committee work has been done in so many fields and we see few results if any.
Even without the new phraseology for proposed treatment of the violent crime crisis, there has been several years of talk that law enforcement requires help by the intervention of other agencies to ameliorate the dysfunctional aspects of our society.
The action of law enforcement takes place at the violent end of a behavioural spectrum. At the beginning of that spectrum are the things that shape the minds that influence the behaviour of young citizens and lead them into ‘criminality’. But there has been no action to counteract those negative influences.
Why should it be different this time?
Moreover, in this particular field, the Government already has access to two subject matter-specific committee reports. There was a Cabinet-appointed committee chaired by the late Professor Selwyn Ryan, which, in 2013, had terms of reference requiring it to inquire into the causes of criminality and propose possible solutions to the challenges.
In its report: No time to quit. Engaging youth at risk, the Ryan-led committee proposed solutions that spoke to “the need for integrated governance, community empowerment, a comprehensive youth development policy and a social contract that espouses poverty eradication, adequate housing, an improved education system, family support, health and wellness and enriching leisure and creative activities.”
In 2020, under pressure of more fiery protests, this very Prime Minister announced the Community Recovery Committee headed by Anthony Watkins, established in 2020 “to find solutions to address some chronic problems in urban and semi-urban communities”.
That Committee is said to have reported in 2021 and Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds recently claimed, without providing evidence, that its recommendations are already being used in various ministries.
In light of the Ryan and Watkins reports (one for Kamla, one for Rowley), what is this next committee comprising persons drawn from across the same failed ministries going to do? Does the announcement of it not simply satisfy the need for this Government to say something in response to more fiery protests and then carry on regardless?
The Ryan-led committee directed its recommendations to “the need for economic equity, differentiated curricula, the importance of basic life skills and the holistic development of the individual”—sharply focusing on educational reform.
Has the Watkins-led committee said anything different?
When the Prime Minister blames ‘poor parenting’ for violent crime, has he considered how one can possibly parent well in desperate socio-economic conditions?
Like its predecessor, the sincerity of the Government towards the disadvantaged remains suspect and I raise again the secrecy in which this Government is keeping the report of the Watkins-led committee.
Without the release of the report, we cannot learn for ourselves what has been neglected in the ‘at risk’ communities and what has been recommended—nor can we confirm nor measure the implementation, which Minister Hinds said is in progress.
Let me say it again: successive governments, as well as those uttering pious or discriminatory statements, are guilty of ignoring the underlying socio-economic conditions and the intersection of politics, trafficking profits, corruption and campaign finance. That is why we are in a criminal shambles.
Will our governments continue playing with fire?