MANNING'S CRIME AND POLITICS CHALLENGE
By Rickey Singh
October 12, 2003
THE DETERIORATING crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago, with its spiralling murder rate and spate of kidnappings for ransom, seems to have further aggravated the country's racio-political divisions.
It has also created a new conflict between the police service and Prime Minister Patrick Manning's administration, reminiscent of 1993 when the police staged an unprecedented protest march to highlight grievances with the then government that was also headed by Manning.
Jamaica and Guyana, with their own serious crime problems that have resulted, at different periods, in conflicts involving the empowerment of soldiers for joint army-police patrols to combat violence and serious crimes, would undoubtedly pay keen attention to current developments in Trinidad and Tobago.
In the case of Jamaica, which has an annual murder rate of 1,000, head of the Defence Force, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, had told a parliamentary committee earlier this year that he would reluctantly decline to expose soldiers to harm in anti-crime battles unless they were properly protected by law.
Consequently, he had made out a case why Jamaican soldiers should be armed with powers of arrest and have the same immunities and privileges as members of the police service.
It was an issue with shades of what had developed during the height of the criminal rampage in Guyana earlier this year when empowerment of soldiers also became a consideration after soldiers of the Guyana Defence Force were mobilised for joint anti-crime patrols with the police.
But the current situation of conflict between the Manning government and the Police Welfare Association is of a more serious and unprecedented nature.
It is located in the Prime Minister's decision - surprisingly announced in his budget presentation last Monday - to appoint as head of a new Special Crime Unit (SCU) an officer of the Defence Force, Brigadier Peter Joseph.
The police association regards the appointment as "a slap in the face" for acting Police Commissioner Everald Snagg and all members of the service, and have vowed "non-cooperation" with the former army colonel and commanding officer who was promoted to Brigadier only on Monday morning and then removed from his duties to be appointed as a sort of anti-crime czar by Manning within hours of presenting his 2003/2004 budget last Monday.
As this column was being written, the police association, whose president, Inspector Christopher Holder, had led the police protest march in 1993, was expected to announce yesterday the actions planned to emphasise their concerns that the police service was "low down" in the government's priorities.
Also, why the police association could not properly cooperate with an officer of the Defence Force "conveniently" promoted and appointed to head a crime unit in the police service in a radical departure from established practices.
The police association president Christopher Holder, has claimed that "this is all politics" - the creation of the Special Crime Unit, which he said was nothing more than "a political animal" and would cause "further frustration" among ranks.
Prime Minister Manning, evidently surprised by the vehement reaction to his latest anti-crime initiative in the creation of the Special Crime Unit under the leadership of Joseph, promised to inform parliament, during the budget debate, on the functions of the crime unit and its line of accountability.
But in the reckoning of the police association, the Prime Minister may have crossed more than "a legal line" to ensure his special appointee was in place for the government's approach to crime-fighting.
Prior to Joseph's controversial appointment, Manning, who heads a National Security Council, set up a "commission" comprising former national security ministers, to advise him on crime and security issues.
For Guyanese, there could very well be a comparison with proposals by the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) for structural changes in the Police Force to the current problem in Trinidad and Tobago resulting in an officer of the Defence Force functioning as an "anti-crime czar" with an evident sidelining of the Police Commissioner.
GBA's Board of Commissioners?
The GBA's proposals, made before a current Disciplined Forces Commission examining structures and functions, include scrapping of the office of Police Commissioner and the creation of a Board of Commissioners, appointed by parliament, with responsibility for the operations of the force.
It would be surprising to know that this finds support from either the local police association or the government. This is an issue to be revisited.
For now, while governments in Jamaica and Guyana remain sensitive to ensuring good army/police relations, the focus is on developments in Trinidad and Tobago where the crime wave has brought new problems for the Manning administration.
In that plural society, with an energy sector that easily puts it ahead of other economies of the Caribbean Community, the alarming rise in kidnapping crimes has been further fanning the flames of racial divisions and, at the same time, exposing cracks in the government's crime-fighting tactics and strategies.
The 176 murders recorded for the year and climbing, resulting from gang warfare, drug-trafficking and other serious crimes, of violence, had already exceeded by four the 172 murders in 2002 - then the highest in the history of the country.
There have also been some 165 kidnappings up to a week ago, with at least three of the victims killed after ransom payments were not made. Millions of dollars have been made as ransom payments, as a traumatised society continues to worry over lack of any success of significance by the security forces in seizing the offensive from the criminals.
Against that background, Prime Minister Manning had presented on Monday his $22 Billion budget as Finance Minister, while hundreds of frustrated, terrified and very angry people were staging a protest rally in Chaguanas to point to claimed failures by the security forces and the government to effectively combat the kidnapping terror.
Among the protesters were businessmen who had shut down operations for the day. As supporters of the opposition United National Congress seized the moment to expand their anti-government "civil disobedience" tactics, two opposition Members of Parliament were arrested, resulting in a boycott of Prime Minister Manning's budget presentation.
Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, was threatening protests "like cane fire" as he challenged acting Police Commissioner Snagg to explain the heavy police presence, intervention and arrests at Chaguanas, in contrast to lack of any action against an unlawful march at Woodford Square in Port-of-Spain, organised by a pro-government organisation at which a cabinet minister was among those in attendance.
But even as Panday was making his challenge to Commissioner Snagg and lambasting the government's anti-crime strategies, the Police Welfare Association was accusing Manning's administration of creating "more frustration" in the Police Service by continuing to give "low priority" to their concerns.
Latest example cited was that of the "political appointment" of Brigadier Joseph which is at the centre of the current government/police dispute that could only heighten tension in a divided state already severely traumatised by the spate of killings and kidnappings.