Thursday, February 3, 2011

How can CARICOM countries decrease the upswing of criminality?

By Ian Francis

Every day, the Caribbean region’s population, through the various and diverse media organs of print and radio resources, is bombarded with news of crime ranging from homicide, armed robberies, rape and other violent crimes against innocent citizens, who are later described as victims, after facing the trauma of being attacked and victimized by these misfits in our community.

As an exiled Caribbean person in North America, I understand the individual pains felt by victims and the lacking inadequacy of our law enforcement agencies to apprehend and bring many of these offenders to justice. Although, some of these alleged offenders are apprehended and brought to justice, the growing inadequacy of the justice system further compounds the situation by apparent backlogs, timid Crown prosecutors and lawless legal lawyers, who show very little respect for the judicial system by constantly plotting and finding schemes and alibis on circumventing the justice system.

Many of these legal misfits can be found throughout the regional court circuit and are very well known by sitting judges and magistrates. Unfortunately, the legislative disciplinary mechanism is still in draft or review in many regional states so these misfits enjoy disciplinary immunity.

So, a careful analysis of the crime upswing in the region should not be only attributed to the senseless hardcore criminals. Therefore, when the question of crime and criminality is posed to the ordinary citizen on the street, the usual response is “all ah dem in crime”.

Getting such comments, it became necessary for me to delve further into these damaging comments and the outcomes were as follows, with both victims and potential victims identifying group and individual contributions to this untenable situation in the region. Based on my frank and open discussions, it is fair to conclude that crime escalation in the region cannot be blamed only on hardcore criminals. There are many other accomplices, which include:

-- Crooked, lawless and unethical lawyers versed in running red short around the judicial system;
-- Rogue cops who wear the uniform but act as the ears and eyes to inform criminals and their accomplices of planned police operations against them;
-- The revisionist habitual criminal offenders and their known accomplices who have no respect for law and order and invasion of individual rights
-- Public servants who live above their means and in order to maintain the lifestyle, they have no alternative but to divert to corrupt practices, which often go undetected
-- Corrupted elected and appointed parliamentarians who see a niche where they can advance themselves by amassing wealth through money laundering and other corrupt practices
-- Corporate and small business owners who manipulate the customs, excise and tax systems.

These strong perceptions and feelings by the population cannot be ignored anymore. Respective Caribbean governments need to take immediate action.

The situation is very gloomy throughout the region. It was only a few days ago that Trinidad’s National Security Minister accused crooked law enforcement officers of renting their weapons to criminals to commit serious crimes. With this and other allegations emerging from around the region, there should be no doubt or uncertainty in the mind of decision makers that “it is time for house cleaning”.

Yes, there are strong possibilities that many will be caught and, of course, there might be embarrassment; however, if CARICOM governments are committed to disrupting the criminal elements in their states, action and cleansing is needed on all fronts. These are some of the critical elements of transparency, accountability and good governance. Criminality is in our midst and it must be flushed out with vigilance and aggression.

CARICOM governments have from time to time talked about assets declaration. Rather than lamenting whether elected and appointed officials should make the necessary declaration, it is incumbent on respective governments to move swiftly with such legislation. In my view, all public servants in the employ of central governments and statutory bodies should make a declaration on what they own? How was it acquired? Current value and plans for future economic activities.

To put it bluntly, a police corporal with no relatives abroad, no significant local inheritance, no previously known and published financial accomplishments in his or current position is the owner of several houses, fishing boats and “one mores”. A careful examination and monitoring of this individual life style shows minimal activities in an existing financial institution. However, at the end of the day, he or she boasts assets to the tune of millions. Well, as a Jamaican friend would say, “da en sound right”.

This is the reality of criminal and unethical conduct in the CARICOM region. Rather than thinking that the criminal troublemakers are only deportees, it is ample time to dig deeper and identify other perpetrators. They are amongst us and detection is reasonably possible.

There are so many examples of public servant misconduct and alleged corruption in the region that the time has come when it cannot be ignored. Take a simple look at Stanford’s behaviour in Antigua, where he controlled a key staffer in the financial regulation department. Certainly, it occurred in Antigua but it will be very silly to think that there are no other misfits within the region.

Criminal lawlessness is not only amongst the poor. Let’s take a holistic approach and the results will be very surprising.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto. He writes frequently on Caribbean Commonwealth Affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at

February 3, 2011