Crime, cricket and challenges
-- Looking back and ahead By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
December 31, 2006

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LEAVING behind the horrible crime woes of 2006 that proved so painful for Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, among member states of the Caribbean Community, Cricket World Cup 2007 could be good nourishment for people across our region.

It would be a season of excitement and inspiration as we follow the game that is so much a unifying force in our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic region and now, increasingly treated as integral to our social and economic development.

CWC 2007 has resulted in significant development projects in five of the nine countries hosting the series. These include stadium and road construction; new and improved hotels in addition to the foundation being laid for better health and transportation facilities and, hopefully, more effective security arrangements in the face of ever present danger from the criminal networks

In the areas of crime and justice, 2006 would be recalled for unprecedented developments like the assassination of Guyana's Agriculture Minister Sash Sawh; the jailing for a short period of former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Basdeo Panday on criminal conviction for failing to declare an overseas bank account; and the suspension of that twin-island state's Chief Justice (Satnarine Sharma) for alleged interference in the course of justice.

An appeal is pending against the criminal conviction of Panday -- who still maintains a militant political profile -- while the trial for the alleged offence by Chief Justice Sharma is scheduled to begin next month.

In the field of electoral politics, Jamaica's primary focus would be the general election to be called by the country's first-ever woman Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, whose incumbent People's National Party is after an unprecedented fifth consecutive term.

It will be a very hard row for the PNP to hoe against the background of a campaign financing scandal and widening social and economic discontent, and an evidently energised opposition Jamaica Labour Party of Bruce Golding.

Jamaica's election will be one of four expected for 2007 -- the others being Trinidad and Tobago; Barbados and The Bahamas. It would be quite a surprise -- as it was in the case of St Lucia last month -- should there be a change in government in either Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago.

Last August, the People's Progressive Party/Civic won its fourth consecutive term. No surprise in that.

But last month's defeat of the two-term St Lucia Labour Party came as a shocker with the return of the 82-year-old John Compton's United Workers Party to power.

Now, as we prepare to usher in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, it would be simply too difficult to shrug off the enormous human tragedies, the wars, terrorism, genocidal tribal/racial and religious conflicts, or the deaths from hunger and diseases that have been so much of the horrifying experiences of the global community in 2006.

In our own small patch of the globe, 2006 would be remembered, variously, for unabating criminality with Jamaica retaining its unenviable reputation as the "murder capital" of the Caribbean, and Trinidad and Tobago as the region's "kidnapping centre".

It was also the year when fears have increased over the future of regional air transportation -- compelling new rescue initiatives that include a possible merger of LIAT and Caribbean Star as well as an integrated service arrangement with Trinidad and Tobago's new airline, Caribbean Star, which replaces the 60-year-old BWIA on New Year's Day.

For all the excitement that CWC 2007 and the expected quartet of national elections will bring, plus the interest to be generated in coming CARICOM summits that must settle the structure of a single economic space by 2008, a very distressing feature of life in our Caribbean Community could still be the plague of serious crime.

Criminality was a major enemy of many CARICOM states in 2006, with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana being among the worse affected.

Trinidad and Tobago remains a society traumatised by recurring kidnappings for ransom. Most of the victims happen to be of one ethnic group in what is increasingly viewed as a volatile social/political climate.

Some social organisations have been urging town hall-style meetings with the police to share ideas on crime control and about the climbing deaths from road accidents. Ministerial rhetoric and self-serving comparisons of crime data offer no comfort to a traumatised populace.

While precise regional data were unavailable at the time of writing, murders and traffic accidents were competing with deaths from HIV/AIDS that, together, accounted for well over 2,000 lives lost in 2006 in a CARICOM already burdened with comparatively high mortality from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer, obesity, and heart attacks.

Next year, following the historic cricket series, CARICOM governments will be expected to advance the implementation of the very valuable report from the Sir George Alleyne-led Caribbean Commission on Health and Development submitted to them for their consideration and action.

The commission's report addresses the challenges of chronic preventable diseases that are destroying too many lives across our community.

CARICOM leaders have the opportunity this year of their Inter-Sessional Meeting in February in St Vincent and the regular annual Heads of Government Conference in July in Barbados to inform the public of the initiatives to be pursued in response to the Commission's core recommendations.

There remains, of course, the unresolved, elusive issue of an effective governance system of the community's business and whether the recurring calls for a high-level CARICOM Commission with executive authority will get the decisive support it needs in confronting some of the community's challenges during 2007.