THE inexorable increase in crime in our society, witness the recent incidents of murder and brazen thefts, has left citizens wringing their hands in despair. Just listen to the radio call-in programmes, which whatever one thinks of them, provide the only available indicators of how citizens feel.
The country seems locked in a spiral in a race to the bottom with no elevating goals or traits and this is bound to lead to the disillusionment of young people and eventually to crime. The main past-time appears to be to congregate at some watering-hole or by a roadside vending tray. This when St. Lucia through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was seen by the rest of the Caribbean as the place to be.
For all their bluster politicians have done nothing since then to re-create the social and economic landscape to positive impact. Initiative has been reduced to establishing a tray by the roadside; and even that, remains totally unregulated. Our unelected (hope they remain that way) Local Councils have to get out of the trap of thinking of themselves as some extension of a Government ministry, dishing out contracts and jobs to the party faithful (cutting grass or giving a vending license?), and instead be at the forefront of new ideas and societal change. Governments cannot do it trapped as they are in politics and survival and simply paying the bills.
The Castries and Gros Islet Councils, in particular, have the exceptional opportunity and responsibility to reshape their environments. The chairman of the new Castries Council has made some encouraging statements; we’ll see. City Hall should be a central focus for social innovation in the capital, promoting discussions, talks, events, plays, soirees, whatever. Prestigious Rodney Bay is becoming an undisciplined free for all and it is still almost impossible to find a Public Facility in all of Gros Islet, a visitor Mecca; though, in a political gimmick, money was found to demolish a park to build…a park.
An independent group of persons offered, some time ago, to re-populate Reduit Beach with trees at its own cost, which offer remains languishing. Councils should be made to come up with their own ideas for their economic survival and there are a myriad of opportunities worth exploring. The country has accepted a sense of lawlessness that is appalling. Street vending seems to have become a fact of life despite the grave downsides but there must be clearly defined and enforced regulations; and that isn’t difficult. Then one must ask why should the streets and sidewalks of Castries, be allowed to become bedrests and urinals?
Why are dozens of stray dogs still allowed to roam the streets of the capital? Does once proud Micoud Street, in the centre of the City, have to look like a slum?
Must garbage remain piled up on the ground, for days on end, fodder for the same stray dogs? Dogs do three things; eat, crap and sleep, on the same streets we humans traverse. Law and Order starts with the simple things, the very things we ignore and them wring our hands when then deluge hit us.
Sometimes the law must be imposed with the force of a sledge-hammer and not let small infractions become the norm. The recent introduction of a dress code for entry into some government offices was long overdue and should be applied, as appropriate, across the nation. But there is more; is there any reason why Local Government meetings are held in secret? The norm almost everywhere else is for full public access except in very clearly defined instances; why not here?
Is there any reason why the Cabinet Secretary does not issue a press release following the weekly Cabinet meetings? Is there any reason why we do not have “Prime Minister’s Question Time” in Parliament? That’s an essential part of the Westminster model. Parliamentarians can then pose questions on behalf of their constituents who elected them in the first place. We have crucial reports on public investigations, the Terms of Reference for which nobody has seen. The nation needs a Freedom of Information Act. Does anyone, even the Local Council, know what the outstanding rental debt of the occupants of state housing (The CDC) is? Just what the hell is all the secrecy about? In Trinidad, Prime Minister’s question time has led to a very lively, if polite, and instructive exchange. Parliamentarians should go to Trinidad to see for themselves. Public officials, not just politicians, must be held to account and exposed, if need be, when they fail in their responsibilities.
There is more discussion on the street about concerns facing the country (crime, the economy, unemployment, foreign investment, taxes etc.), than in Parliament. So just what the hell is Parliament for, except as it appears, for one member to cuss off his opponent, an insult to the nation. Parliament should be meeting weekly, and televised, to discuss the grave problems we face and arrive at a consensus for solution.
Some while ago there was an opportunity to create a National Youth Corps and this should be relentlessly pursued (with Private Sector participation, of course) to give unemployed young people some hope and get them off the streets. The nation needs it, especially in emergencies; concessions should be given to developers to build and themselves manage (not partisan Councils, who cannot even collect levies due to them) low-income, apartment-type accommodation, and government has to subsidize rents in support of the poor. We just have to get rid of the mess of unsanitary and crime-breeding shantytowns that is overwhelming the nation; and stop wringing our hands when the inevitable happens and the crime deluge over-takes us.