The Roman Emperor, Nero, is said to have fiddled while Rome burned. His alleged conduct passed into common parlance to mean “not dealing with a difficult or dangerous situation but instead doing useless things or pretending nothing is wrong”.
In our current situation, fiddling with runaway violent crime includes the Government asserting repeatedly that it is the police who are responsible for our safety—even in the face of the ludicrous self-assessed “excellence” of the latest holder of the office of Commissioner of Police.
However, there is a National Security Council (the NSC), of which the Prime Minister is the head, which assembles, with or without the heads of the so-called protective services in attendance by invitation. What is the purpose of this NSC?
While thinking about this, I came across a proposition contained in a New York Times commentary by David French on the rise of violent incidents on the New York subway. It is as powerful as those statements of Professor HLA Hart, the famed Oxford Professor of Jurisprudence—to which I have referred for more than a decade—concerning the consequences when there is a “breakdown of ordered legal control”.
French’s proposition reflects exactly where we are in terms of our own public spaces, including schools and in, many cases, private spaces as well.
Here it is: “Civil society cannot exist when the rule of law fails, and that includes on the nation’s streets and public transit systems. The rule of law has to apply to the most and the least powerful citizens, or we will create a culture of impunity that can disrupt lives and, ultimately dangerously destabilize communities.”
In two posts in 2016 from the Office of the Prime Minister, (the OPM), the NSC was respectively listed among “Businesses and Departments” for which the OPM is responsible and “charged with the responsibility of monitoring matters relating to defence and national security and serviced by a secretariat comprising staff employed to assist the council in the execution of its duties”.
In the exercise of “monitoring”, did the NSC learn of and give directives to restrain the flow of guns through the legal ports and keep that matter under systematic review, as monitoring conveys in its ordinary meaning?
More detailed reference to the NSC’s duties can be found in a rapid review of National Security Councils globally, issued by the UK-based Institute of Development Studies.
For the NSC, Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, it cited the following source: Government Information Service Limited (GISL), Government of Trinidad and Tobago. (2017). Web page accessed: 11.2.17.
This government site (now said to be under maintenance) reportedly stated that: “the role of the NSC is to consider threats to the national security of Trinidad and Tobago and formulate policy at the strategic level. The NSC does not become involved in investigative matters between law enforcement and the DPP or other such bodies, nor is the NSC privy to the details of such matters.”
Despite that accurate statement of constitutional restraint, the government site reportedly, however, did give examples of matters that “would engage the attention of the NSC”.
These included “establishing a maritime security wall around Trinidad and Tobago, inclusive of the acquisition of naval and air assets; enhancing the work of the Police Service to deal with criminal and security matters; policies on the Rapid Response Unit; the National Operations Centre; the CCTV systems; policies for surveillance; integrating intelligence sharing mechanisms; responsibility for energy security; critical infrastructure and port security.”
The exercise of responsibility for port security has been undeniably a huge and continuing failure with the deadly consequence that the guns, now so freely in use, have breezed through the legal ports.
Our government and opposition regularly berate each other and descend also into berating us, the citizens. While they indulge in berating, citizens suffer murderous deaths and the rule of law is consistently undermined.
Many of our besieged citizens are not buying the Government’s position on responsibility for our safety. In those circumstances, despite the fact that security matters require restraint in divulging information, we are entitled to ask whether the NSC is a mere placebo.