EDITORIAL: Focus on cause, not symptoms
WHAT DO TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and priest-in-charge of St Clement’s Anglican Church in Barbados, Reverend Keith Griffith, have in common? Very little, most likely. However, comments in recent days by them about anti-social behaviour in their respective countries and the impact on national stability provide food for thought.
Dr Rowley’s comments were contained in a national address on Sunday night that was no doubt provoked by a rash of violent crimes there, including more than 300 murders so far this year. One major plank of his government’s response to this crisis will be the spending of US$17.5 million to better equip the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
What we find interesting is the number of times in recent years the headlines of Trinidad’s newspapers have screamed that the government was about to spend some massive sum to equip security agencies. We’re told that in the last five years that country’s government has spent $25 billion on national security.
Compared with other police and military forces in the region, Trinidad and Tobago’s agencies have little reason to complain. Their coast guard is a virtual small navy, authorities have unmatched access to helicopter resources, and it appears the addition of new police vehicles is a constant. Unfortunately, it is also clear that the more the country spends on its security agencies, the worse the situation with crime becomes.
This brings us to the comments of Rev. Griffith, just hours after Dr Rowley’s, as he addressed children from the north of Barbados as they prepared for the start of the new school year. The retired school principal spoke of Bajans who appear to be losing their way.
He spoke of ways in which our cultural norms have changed – and not for the better. Specifically, too many young people not being exposed to Christian values and not being taught how to live in a civil society. After more than four decades as an educator, including a substantial period as a principal, we believe he was more than qualified to warn authorities not to jump to the conclusion that persons committing “heinous acts of violence” were unschooled or illiterate.
“The nation is suffering the consequences of education without Christ . . . ,” Griffith remarked.
The challenges we face, as well as those confronting authorities in Trinidad, are complex and can’t be attributed to a single factor – and consequently can’t be solved by a one-sided approach. Those with the power and responsibility to act therefore ought to be wary of an approach that is centred on spending huge sums on security forces, while neglecting the root causes.
If the education system is not adequately meeting the needs of children; if they work diligently and then upon graduation the economy is unable to offer them meaningful opportunities; if national planners cannot find meaningful ways to divert school-leavers into post-secondary training or higher education in the face of a depressed job market; if community facilities are inadequate or neglected; if citizens at the lower socio-economic strata consistently feel neglected while they watch others at the top thrive, there is a greater likelihood they will resort to unconventional and often anti-social behaviours for relief.
Heavy spending on security apparatus only responds to the symptoms, not the causes, and that’s perhaps why Trinidad, after spending billions on the security forces, is still seeing crime escalate.
As authorities in Barbados and other Caribbean islands juxtapose their crime challenges against those of Trinidad, they ought to see the merit in working on the issues that lead to deviance. They may also find that working outward from the community level is less costly than buying boats, blimps, helicopters, armoured cars and the like, and investing in new or expanded prisons.
In the words of the priest, a proper place to start would be with values education in the homes and communities. People who value life and respect the property of others are less likely to engage in the behaviours that now give us cause for concern.