MURDER is not a word one expects to see often in the annual fiscal package. But it appeared five times in Colm Imbert’s budget on Monday.
Even before the Finance Minister stood in Parliament to deliver his speech, expectation was high that the Government would depart from its approach in recent years when it comes to fighting crime.
That approach has seen it studiously avoid throwing money at the problem, given that billions have in the past been allocated to national security.
But with even the Prime Minister voicing disquiet over incidents of gun crime on the global stage, and with key business stakeholders such as the Chamber of Industry and Commerce calling for specific measures to boost community collaboration on the issue, it was hoped Mr Imbert would send a powerful signal.
In the end, just about 15 minutes of the four-hour presentation was devoted to anti-crime measures, though in many respects, what Mr Imbert announced exceeded the approach of previous years.
The Government reversed its position on increasing police manpower, saying it would fund a trebling of new recruits from 300 to 1,000 a year. While this was left uncosted, budget documents show a planned $400 million increase in salaries, allowances and back pay for police personnel in the coming year.
Also announced was an additional $80 million for community patrols; a new $15 million river patrol unit; tax exemptions for protective service retirees; and the implementation of the controversial “vetted police units,” which will be paid more and possibly benefit from the additional $400 million allocation as well.
Overall, however, national security spending was third on the list, behind education and health, in line with previous patterns.
And Mr Imbert sought to put a positive spin on things by saying the police had “contained the increase” in serious crimes and indicating that burglaries, robberies and larceny were going down. Only cursory mention was made of the alarming spate of home invasions, which has triggered considerable disquiet. And what of the terrifying number of murders?
It was a tightrope performance.
With crime talks featuring the Opposition looming, the Cabinet may have wished to hold its guns pending the outcome of these deliberations. But if so, that would be a risky move, given the history of such talks faltering.
With the end of the constitutional tenure of the Rowley administration drawing closer, it was also something of a gamble.
If crime does not significantly abate, it will significantly inform the results of the next general election. Further allocations could be coming down the road, with Mr Imbert already signalling this could occur in the mid-year review or even sooner.
The question is whether such spending will be too little, too late.