Professor Ramesh Deosaran
Montego Bay. Commissioners or their delegates from 25 Caribbean states spent four days (April 30-May 3) worrying over the raging gun violence now spreading across the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica and TT. They attended the 33rd Annual Conference of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP) held at the North Coast Montego Bay Convention Centre, Jamaica.
However, any hope by these commissioners for a crime-free environment for stress-free deliberations got shaken by one murder after another, political disputes over an existing state of emergency and calls for a “crime plan” by the government. Jamaican Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson's reply was his “crime plan will not be made public since that will alert the criminals.” Fair enough.
So much in Jamaica resembles what is happening across these cash-strapped Caribbean island-states facing crime with very noisy, fractured political landscapes. I was given the privilege to address the commissioners on two days. In my second address, and after hearing distress calls from one commissioner after another, I felt obliged to express sympathy and categorise the mounting crime-driven pressures upon them – from the criminals, the public and often from the politicians.
As if teasing the assembled commissioners at the convention centre, gunmen killed seven and injured ten others on the second day of the commissioners’ meeting. It was gangster revenge in which, according to Jamaican Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, “vicious serial killer” and gang boss Nico “Bowza” Samuels was killed in a police shootout. The Saturday before, 61-year-old Paul Chote killed his 39-year-old wife and two daughters with a machete. One newspaper red-print headline was BRUTAL. Another was NO MORE, NO MORE. And so on and on and on.
In one of the very instructive panels on gun violence, Jamaica’s Deputy Commissioner Selvin Hay complained that while illegal guns trickle through “145 unmanned ports” of the country, guns now “come through the officially controlled ports.” He added: “And so, corruption is rife and right in the middle of that major problem.”
Sounds like Trinidad. In fact, two weeks before attending that conference, I reviewed a 1,000-page book on state corruption in developed and developing countries, and one of the major conclusions by the book’s editor, Professor Robert Harris of Hull University, England, was that much of state corruption and transnational organised crime could not take place without the “connivance of politicians and public officials.”
Unchecked containers at ports are recognised as a major contributor to illegal drugs, guns, human trafficking etc. Gun trafficking across the region has its fair share of accomplices. The question arose: If the officials–elected and appointed–upon whom the public and the constitution depend to prevent crime are themselves the very ones who commit crimes, what is the hope?
At this gun violence panel, a lot of us were quite impressed with the contribution by TTs Assistant Commissioner (acting) McDonald Jacob. Within his item-by-item presentation, deputising for Commissioner (acting) Stephen Williams, he referred to the 200 gun-loaded gangs now roaming the country, and the continuous intake facilitated by our porous borders. He also connected vehicle larceny with regional trafficking and the quest for improving intelligence-sharing as critical for predictive policing.
I wondered why we keep hearing the same things over and over? The scary scenes now erupting in Jamaica and Trinidad for example, must not leave us with business as usual. Caricom has at least six major policy-sharing and intelligence-gathering regional agencies, most geared toward generating “a collective response.” In the circumstances of increasing multi-layered threats, the structure and output of these agencies could be helped by a heads of government review.
On the second day, the corrupting influences within the administration of justice were gently revealed by Jamaican Director of Public Prosecution Paula Llewellyn, quite a formidable looking crusader for justice. The need for careful, corruption-free collection of evidence by police is a critical factor in the crime fight. She pointed to the difficulties and the great costs of having reliable, fearless witnesses. Sounds like Trinidad.
One of the most inspiring, unanimous conclusions at this ACCP conference was that no matter the legislation, the salary or title, fighting state corruption really depends on the professional integrity, the good character and sense of decency of those in high office. Hopefully, but a pity.