The New Today

Commentary

Mixed bag performance for NDC in the first year

The last article concluded that the public service in its current state is a serious risk to the new government achieving greater success in its second year in office.

The government should, therefore, seek assistance from friendly governments to undertake an extensive reform effort aimed at improving effectiveness, and efficiency in the public service.

The article further concluded that the culture of corruption that has permeated through the public service undermines productivity and generates status quo bias which in turn erodes systems and processes, and negatively influences the behaviour and attitudes of public servants critical for the performance of government ministries and departments.

The Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF), an agency of government, is mandated to uphold the laws of Grenada fairly and firmly, to prevent crime, pursue criminals, and bring them to justice.

The performance of the RGPF being a part of the public service is negatively affected by that same culture of corruption mentioned earlier. This has eroded the effectiveness of the organisation and prevents it from being able to carry out its mandate fully.

The deterioration of the RGPF is happening at the time when an amalgamation of economic and psychosocial forces are coming together to drive a surge in crime on the island.

Although government finances have improved under the current economic model, this has come about because of reduced debt repayment due to debt restructuring, expenditure controls on public spending, increased revenues from inflationary taxes such as the VAT, and proceeds from Citizenship by Investment (CBI).

In other words, improvements in public finances have come about because of austerity and not real economic expansion. The tourism and construction led activities can’t boost productivity since the jobs created are low paying and benefits unequal.

This situation has caused thousands of young people to be stuck in a rut of under-employment. The absence of real economic expansion has fueled a long-term high rate of unemployment as well, in particular among young people.

As the government continues to under invest in social spending in education, health, housing, and social services, serious psycho-social issues such as mental health and teen prostitution have emerged driven by early drug use and casualisation of transactional sex among young people.

Family structures, particularly among vulnerable households, are being eroded as mounting economic pressures take its toll. Many young people have gravitated to gangs and friendships outside the family and traditional community structures that encourage them into criminal activity.

Layered on all of this is the dramatic flow of guns from the United States to criminal elements in Grenada supported by rogue custom officers and brokers. The North American source has now overtaken the flow of guns from Trinidad.

Grenada does not have the type of gangs that exist in neighbouring Trinidad, Barbados, and St. Lucia, however, youths in areas such as Saigon, Four Roads, the Bronx, and Carenage operate like gangs through social identity, group cohesion, and territorial identification which are associated with criminal behaviour according to social identity theory.

The preponderance of young people in various areas across the country operating like gangs, prevalence of high levels of youth unemployment, and underemployment, increasing inequality in society and low levels of social investments targeted at young people are fueling the recent increase in crime.

If the government doesn’t act now to arrest the crime situation, it will take hold, and the country could end up like Trinidad and St. Lucia.

Crime is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that requires an all of government response along with inputs from the private sector, civil society, and academia. There are no easy solutions to address its causes, and an increase in the number of police and stepped-up policing is to overlook the complexity of the problem.

Even if emphasis is placed on crime suppression, the RGPF is a much weakened organisation today than in previous periods when criminal activity went on the rise. There are no Cosmos Raymond, Colonel Ogilvie, James Clarkson, and Fitzroy Bedeau type leaders in the force anymore.

Similarly, crime fighters the likes of Assistant Commissioner of Police Trevor Modeste, Superintendents Cosmos Hosten , Anthony Joseph, Earl Dunbar, Ignatius Mason, Assistant Superintendent Byron Clyne, and Corporal Felix are a thing of the past.

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Moreover, the systems and procedures that held the force together in the past have eroded immensely, and what exists now is a ‘crab in a barrel mentality’ in a force intensely polarised by partisan politics.

This points to the need for comprehensive reforms in the RGPF and the wider public service to build capacity and capabilities that would enable a comprehensive all of government approach to address the complex multifaceted phenomenon that is crime.

The constant plea from the article a year ago, Prime Minister, please get the transition right to the subsequent ones on transformation and public sector reforms are even more relevant now due to the clear and present danger crime poses to our society and development agenda.

Increasing the number of police officers and driving up and down with four van loads of police stopping briefly at crime spots is not an effective crime suppression effort and is laughable if the effort is not driven by credible intelligence on flow of drugs and guns, other criminal activities, individual violence producers, and crime hotspots.

This ought to be coordinated by an operational tempo that is replete with systematic roadblocks, spot searches, crackdown on unauthorised parties and unregulated social sessions like the event on Pandy Beach, intense screening of barrels from the United States, surveillance of rouge Custom officers and brokers, stepped up maritime patrols of our borders to stem the flow of Marijuana from St. Vincent, guns, and cocaine from Trinidad and South America.

The Prime Minister should demand from the police high command a comprehensive crime suppression plan for the carnival in light of the recent spike in violence at pre-carnival social events.

In order to address the root causes of crime, an ‘all of government’ approach to include all government agencies, civil society, and the private sector have to be adopted.

The outcomes from these consultations should be a strategy and plan of action to address the root causes of crime. This must be underpinned by institutional strengthening of the RGPF and wider public sector to build capacity and capability to develop and implement the plan.

The Policy Unit in the Cabinet office should collaborate with the Ministries of Social Development, Youth, Sports, Community Development, Health, Mobilisation and Implementation, and Economic Development to undertake a series of nationwide consultations, which would be informed by synthesis of previous regional and local studies on crime and youths, the outcomes of local studies on youth crime and other deep dive exercises to thoroughly analyse and come up with targeted solutions to address the problem.

The problem of crime is too complex to be addressed in a piecemeal and knee-jerk manner. The Prime Minister must surround himself with a team of security advisors who understand that and can advise him accordingly. A failure to do so would result in crime taking further hold in our society. This would be extremely damaging for layered on the social and economic conditions described earlier.

There is a generation of young people who are cold, have no soul, and don’t value life. Many of them are the offspring of persons who themselves engaged in criminal activities in the past, fell through the cracks in the school system, or harbour deep trauma inflicted upon them in at-risk vulnerable households.

At present, social identity and cohesion centered around one or two young personalities are driving neighborhood gangs in Grenada. However, if well-structured gangs are allowed to develop and fester to the point where they can provide a social safety net and economic assurance to their members thus lowering the consequences of individual criminal behaviour, with the large numbers of cold, soulless, mentally unstable, unemployed young people out there what happened in St. Vincent two weeks ago and is regularly happening in Trinidad and St. Lucia could soon occur here in Grenada.

It is not far-fetched for word on the ground is that one of the five persons executed in a drive by shooting in St. Vincent used to be a regular visitor to Grenada, a big player in the drug trade between the two islands and others, maybe hiding here from reprisals by other gangs.

The time to act is now for when your neighbour’s house is on fire, wet yours.

Special Correspondent