For the last two weeks I have focused on how successive governments—PNM and UNC, or UNC-led—miserably failed us in providing the equipment and specially trained personnel capable of detecting and interdicting illegal firearms importation through the legal ports.
We now have an unqualified acknowledgment from McDonald Jacob, the acting commissioner of police, of the role of the legal ports in permitting unrestrained firearms smuggling.
The Sunday Express, on 25 September read as follows: “Most of the high powered weapons and weapons generally are coming in through the legal ports. There are high-powered weapons, revolvers and pistols coming from Venezuela, but that is miniscule to what is coming through our legal ports.”
Jacob also had a lot of negative things to say about the Customs and Excise Division of the Ministry of Finance, but ignored similar alleged deficiencies within the Police Service.
These latest Jacob lamentations followed a report in the Trinidad Guardian of 28 August, in which senior Customs officials confirmed that, with the constant and efficient use of scanners, officers could easily distinguish between different commodities in a container. But they described the scanners at the ports as “obsolete or non-functional” with the result that “illegal guns and contrabands flow freely”.
So the National Security Council chaired by successive prime ministers did not know that? Is there any concern for our constant fear of armed criminals?
It must be emphasised that these so-called legal ports are under the control of our governments, which regularly attack the media. Currently, the government is persistently disdainful of disagreement and attempts to treat unfavourable commentary as merely the output of “naysayers”.
Meanwhile, the incompetence and indifference of these different governments facilitated the entry of weapons which are used to kill citizens or hold them up.
The enduring epidemic of denial of responsibility in the face of the prevalence of violent crime has hurt us far more than alleged “naysaying”. As previously indicated, I began writing about violent crime during the first Patrick Manning-led administration. His administrations loved the epithet “naysayers”.
Then, as administrations came and went, I continued writing regularly about the killing fields—the dangerous intersection between the drug trade and big business and the lack of objective justice.
My close friends are anxious for me because I am laying out the responsibility of our governments for leaving the country wide open to the entry of high powered weapons and the consequent horrible events and diminished quality of life. As well as, because of my questioning, they are anxious about what may lie behind the indifference and excuse making.
I may defer to my well-wishers but the wish, “stay safe”—which became popular during the pandemic—should be retained in common speech. It is an appropriate expression of hope that the recipient of the wish is not the next victim of the random killings, home invasions and hold-ups that are terrorising us.
This is a good juncture therefore to return to the culture sector. There is abundant evidence that our artistes are returning to public performance with the same excellence they displayed before the pandemic forced them to leave public spaces.
The pan resurgence is particularly evident. But where will these skills end in terms of historical record and heritage preservation?
The National Gas Company (NGC) recently decided to acquire the video archives of Banyan Television. The Express newspaper described the NGC decision as “an all-too-rare appreciation of the value of cultural documentation as a critical resource for research, education, creation of new content and self-knowledge”.
This is a reminder to inquire about the whereabouts and preservation of the archives of what was Radio Trinidad, 610 Radio Guardian as well as TTT (Trinidad and Tobago Television) in its earlier manifestation.
A close friend and an All Stars elder—with an interest in the collection that contains recordings of the annual Classical Jewels concerts—raised with me the fate of private collections whose original owners have passed. There is also invaluable indigenous Carnival costume work that needs to be saved.
The Prime Minister encouraged us on the recent occasion of Republic Day to take pride in “the spheres in which we are as good as the world’s best” and “to claim your heritage”. Perhaps the national archives officials will take heed.