It pains me as a citizen of this beautiful country and Leader of the Opposition to be constantly addressing the crime situation here. I say this because the seriousness of the matter demands a community response.
But those who have been charged with managing the affairs of the nation must be in the forefront. You might remember that not too long ago, the Honourable Arnhim Eustace, as Opposition Leader, asked Prime Minister Gonsalves to have a joint (bipartisan) appeal to the nation to address crime and violence.
Dr. Gonsalves refused to do it and instead sought to belittle Mr. Eustace and his offer by saying Eustace only wanted to look Prime Ministerial. We know that crime is a complex and multifaceted issue.
However people expect their government to provide security and create an environment that facilitates economic and social development.
The current Prime Minister accepts praise for any good that comes to SVG regardless of his role in it, but distances himself from anything that is negative or not politically popular. As he put it: he accepts responsibility; he does not accept blame.
The crime situation must be fought on many fronts. First, one expects the immediate response to come from our law enforcement personnel.
This begs the question of their training, involving having the skills and equipment to tackle crime in this era of modern technology.
Events of the past few months have shown us that there is tremendous dissatisfaction in the police service over many things, including conditions of work. The Police Welfare Association tried to have these matters addressed and, several weeks ago, its executive members debated how best to do so.
We all know how that turned out! What was also manifested was a lack of respect for the police by those in authority.
Recently members of the police service were upset by efforts to deduct money from their pay for hurricane relief donation, without their prior knowledge and consent. Despite the efforts of the authorities to rationalise their actions, the incident showed itself as part of a deepening gulf between the rank and file and the top brass of the service.
This cannot continue if we are to meet the challenge of fighting serious crime. Under the past NDP government, community policing was advocated and fostered. The effectiveness of community policing is recognized world over. However, such policing is clearly not a priority today. It must be championed again.
The police cannot on their own effectively fight crime and lawlessness. It is obvious to most of us that there is a lack of trust between the police and the population they serve.
Community policing is a way of restoring trust and making the police more effective. It would also help to remove partisan politics from the operation of police service. Let the service be strictly professional!
There is more that can and will be said on the issue of the conditions of work and housing of the police but let me focus on some other issues.
Tackling crime must be dealt with both in the short and long term. What is happening in our society leads us to the conclusion that crime cannot be simply explained as greater and easy availability of guns and of gang warfare. These are obviously part of the whole equation but it goes beyond that, especially when we look at the involvement of young people in criminal activity.
We have seen examples recently of even young women being involved, including persons who were well educated. We are of the view that while we tackle the issue head on and immediately, we must look at the root causes.
It is because of this that we introduced the Spiritual and Social Redemption Charter in 2003 which the ruling ULP regime refused to have debated in parliament. We continue to see the need for addressing the issues raised in the Charter. In the past, we depended on the Church for guidance and work on matters of morality and addressing and up-keeping established values which we consider still very relevant today.
The Church is no longer the mover in this area for a variety of reasons,including being itself infected by the political divisiveness prevalent in the country.
Given that anti-social behaviour that can later escalate into acts of violence is present in the schools, we believe it necessary to start in the schools reinforcing the long-held values that have over the years held our people together as members of one community, assisting each other and looking after the interests of the community.
But with all of this, the economic downturn in our society provides space and fuel for the unruly. While some applaud and speak glowingly about what is called the ‘education revolution’, the reality is that many of our school leavers, even those with university degrees, cannot find jobs.
Our education curriculum and its general direction continues to be one that certifies graduates to find jobs which are becoming scarcer and scarcer, rather than creating jobs. But even in the creation of jobs it is necessary for us to provide the context and the environment that stimulates entrepreneurial activity and attracts investment from our people in the diaspora and from foreign investors.
So, the issue of criminal activity and the skyrocketing murder rate is complex and must be tackled on all fronts. Government must, however, be caring and must put in place measures that will convince the people that it is serious about dealing with crime and violence. It must provide a platform for our communities to understand that they have a role to play in combating crime, which has gotten completely out of hand.
But we also accept that we all have a role to play and we should not wait until violence touches us personally to demand action.
The NDP pledges that this problem will be high on our political agenda in government. We do not hold the reins of government now but are prepared to work along with others to tackle this alarming crime situation. It really cannot be business as usual; we must begin the process of taking back control of our communities, our lives and our peace of mind.
In our Manifesto, (see page 42), we set out what can be done to address the problems of crime and violence in the society.
To those prescriptions, I will emphasize that to address this crisis of crime and violence in our country, the ULP must be removed from office. Ralph and his government have failed this country and, what is more, they don’t seem to care.
When they can seek to minimise the significance of the current spate of violent killings and wounding in the country, it shows that they are out of touch with the feelings of the common people. As powerful and privileged ruling elites, they feel safe and cannot imagine that ordinary people would be worried about the murderous violence in the country! Since they do not acknowledge the problem, they cannot provide leadership in finding solutions.
Therefore, the Minister of National Security must go. I am calling on him to resign immediately!
As for the rest of us, we must all come together to be each other’s keeper, to build strong, healthy communities. Together, we must make St. Vincent and the Grenadines safe again!
NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY