ROBBERY

During my first term(1995-2000), I introduced the Environmental Cleanup Program which provided work for marginalized youths (many of whom had had run-ins with the law), as well as the opportunity to beautify their environment, and to gain self esteem.

The vast majority of them stayed out of trouble, and some even moved on to become homeowners and business persons.

In addition, I helped many other youths (as many as I could) to get skills and work so that they might steady themselves economically and socially.

At the same time, I always urged them to educate and elevate themselves and to abide by the law; and I never gave any of them ‘right’ if I thought that he or she was wrong.

I was also blessed to be able to assist Mr. Washington Archibald in putting  together Project Strong, which was a program to catch at-risk youngsters who had fallen through the educational and social cracks.

I was also a strong supporter of the security forces, and took personnel from the Police Force, the Defence Force and Customs to tourism events overseas in an effort to provide them with insights into the industry which would become increasingly important to our nation’s economic development.

And I did all that I could to encourage and urge the security agencies to be well positioned and on full alert at tourist visitor sites and other hot spots, organizing (sometimes at my own, personal  expense) rental cars and other amenities, to ensure  a strong, mobile presence of plainclothes, and other, security personnel.

I recall when, at one Budget Estimates Meeting, the Defence Force asked for money to add about 10 soldiers, it was told that there was no money available for that. So I offered that the money be taken from my allotment in Tourism, and, as a result, the Defence Force got its new soldiers.

I understood the importance of security to the Tourism industry, to the economy, and to the nation as a whole.

As soon as I took up the post of Minister of National Security in 2004, I set about to study the various agencies, and I came to the conclusion that there were monstrous challenges before me.

And so, at the very first Budget Estimates Meeting held after the 2004 elections, I made a plea for money and other resources for my new Ministry. I spoke about the conditions of police stations, the Prison, the Defence Force, the Fire Services, about equipment shortcomings, about the deplorable conditions of work, about demoralized personnel, about issues with training, attitudes and professionalism, and so on.

I don’t know if the Maximum Leader thought that I was condemning him for not doing a good job for the nine years during which he had been Minister of National Security.

That was not my intention, but I had a duty to report honestly on what I had seen.

But he stopped me dead in my tracks and asked if I thought that my Ministry was the only one in the Government. I told him no, but the country was facing a crisis with crime, violence and youth gangs, that I had spoken about this looming crisis on the platform in the just-passed elections, and that it posed a serious threat to our economy and to national security. I told him that at any given time people have to prioritize their resources and that at that time, National Security deserved and demanded top priority.

However, I was determined to press on and to come up with ideas to find the money needed to get our National Security apparatus up to speed.

The game plan was to work with other Ministries in social intervention and other programs, such as, but not limited to:

(a) changing our approach to primary education to strengthen literacy and numeracy, to introduce a science module, a business module, and personal development module designed to create rounded individuals with strong self esteem and a sense of personal and cultural identity, social skills, manual and technical skills, a sense of family, parenting, and civic-mindedness (and to include music, heath and wellness practices, sports, junior cadets, debating, languages, and the arts);

(b) counseling for children, parents and guardians, and psychological testing at an early stage, and periodically, so that signs of potential for aberrant behaviour might be detected early, and monitored;

(c) social and economic safety-net projects and activities for at-risk families, including technical and social skills development of adults;

(d) the Circle of Peace program whereby at-risk youths could be mentored by responsible persons in the community and given jobs and other assistance and guidance in structuring their lives and developing self esteem; and

(e) the Men At School program whereby responsible men in the community would volunteer an hour or so every few weeks to go to schools and sit with children, so as to help our youths better identify with father figures and to develop healthy and positive male role models in their lives.

In addition, there was the need to upgrade  and build facilities, to improve conditions of work, morale, dedication and professionalism, to make the criminal justice system less onerous and more efficient, and at the same time to provide stricter punishment in extreme cases.

I advocated that for criminal matters, we part company with the Privy Council and use the Caribbean Court of Justice as our Court of final appeal, and that we add trading in guns and heavy drugs to the list of capital offences. And I called for zero tolerance of gangs period!

And, for the record, I met with the gangs and told them the same thing.

I called for strengthening the informant and witness protection programs, and encouraged the setting up of control user groups with cell phones for discreet and fast information sharing, as well as CCTV system, a beefed up and sustained K-9 Unit, the return of the corporal position in the Police Force, and the introduction of Risk Pay for  the Defence Force.

It was important, from my standpoint, for our security forces to receive, not only better working conditions, but better payment packages, including commissions on tickets, duty concessions on home construction and vehicles( for persons in the agencies for a minimum number of years), employing  off duty officers to provide security for sports facilities, schools, hospitals, tourist sites , and special functions etc..

That way they would get the added cash that they need, at the same time using their skills to augment on-duty officers in protecting government facilities and other important sites and events.

But they were robbed of that opportunity.

Going hand-in-hand with these improvements in their pockets would be the expectation( indeed, the demand) for professionalism, efficiency and integrity), and the ability to get rid of the bad eggs without having to face all of this nonsensical bureaucracy. And an essential part of the process would have police officers doing police work and civilians doing the non-police work that trained officers were tied up with. Also, cleaners should be brought in from other departments to clean barracks, police stations, etc.

I got little co-operation and support from within my Ministry or from Cabinet. And the country was robbed of the chance of seeing these things happen.

I called for small charges to be ticketable so as to stop tying up police and other people, to stop wasting so much time and money in court, and at the same time to add revenue to the Government. And for strictness in relation to enforcing the laws governing parental and adult responsibilities towards children, to traffic violations, to gangs, loitering, etc.,  and to white collar crime. I urged that the criminals should be forced by law to pay all expenses incurred by the police, the courts, the medical and other services as a result of their criminal acts.

I advocated a de-emphasizing of prison time for lesser offences and more non-custodial sentencing with curfews and work and study orders by the courts, and for the introduction of a Boot Camp/National Service program for youths at risk.

However, all of that would require money. Lots of it. But there was little of it to spare. Remember that by that time, the Government’s fiscal situation was already bad.

I figured that we needed about $150 million, and I suggested that we establish a citizenship by investment program under which we would offer 150 citizenships, at about $1 million each, to persons of high net value and integrity, and to use the money to build out facilities, to upgrade equipment and conditions of work, and so on.

Local architects and contractors would be engaged and much of the labour would be done by the same youths at risk, those in the National Boot Camp/National Service program, those on non-custodial sentences from the court or otherwise under court orders, and so on.

They would be taught the trades and they would be paid according to scale. After a period of time, they would qualify as skilled tradespersons (in that way providing the backbone of our emerging economy).

And after, say, two years of industriousness and good conduct, and once qualified as tradespersons, these youths would be allotted parcels of land and have their homes financed and constructed. Economic empowerment, social stabilization and crime reduction all in one.

That was six years ago.

But it was not to be. The youths, and the nation, would be robbed.

The program would inject massive capital into our economy, create a public sector building boom,  erecting not only a prison, police stations and other national security facilities, but also allowing Government to sell its Church Street properties and build a Government Complex at Fort Thomas or near to  the Airport, or both, and open up the downtown area for commercial development and activity.

It would, also save the Government all of this money that it’s spending on rent. And the macroeconomic impact would be remarkable, bringing great reward and relief to both the public and private sectors, and reducing the pressure on our security forces, given that so young many persons, once marginalized and angry, would now have developed self-esteem, technical and social skills, steady work, and a vested interest.

Under the National Security Development Fund, no company would have gotten a five-year worldwide marketing or other exclusive, and no company would have gotten 10%, or any percentage whatsoever, of the money paid into the Fund, as is the case with the Sugar industry Diversification Foundation which is a perverted, borrowed version of my concept.

And under it, national security would have improved in all aspects, and ex- sugar workers and other areas of our society and economy would have also benefited.

But it was not to be. Instead, the youths of the nation, and the nation itself, were robbed of the chance for this massive economic development and social stabilization program that would have touched and improved their lives.

Interestingly, I shared my ideas and my proposals with colleagues, and with the nation from time to time while in Parliament, on the radio or in my column in the Labour Spokesman. But there was little or no response.

But where I got a great response was from security chiefs and experts in the region and beyond, as well as diplomats, all of whom stated that if my ideas were to be given a chance, our federation could be positively transformed and be a m\del for other countries in the region and beyond.

But it was not to be. We robbed ourselves. 

CCTV is now coming (four years later), but with money begged from Taiwan rather than with money earned by us. The top-class dogs which we bought with private money, instead of being bred to stock out growing K-9 Units in the security services, are being bred for private profit. Police officers are in the supermarkets and elsewhere rather than patrolling the tourist sites and other hot spots. Their conditions of work continue to be poor. Professionalism is still at a low level. The gangs haven’t been disbanded. And crime is still the top priority problem in the country.

Robbery.

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