The following is just a small glimpse into my suggested blueprint for the security and development of Trinidad and Tobago based on my knowledge and experience. This snippet focuses on the issues of crime reduction and forex generation through tourism diversification and can significantly enhance the way Trinidad and Tobago is perceived locally, regionally and internationally.
A great deal of time is wasted on rehashing the tired recommendations of ‘hanging’ and ‘putting soldiers on the street’. You are reminded that hanging can only be implemented for offences related to unlawful killing and treason. The death penalty cannot be carried out until the offender has been identified, apprehended, tried, convicted, sentenced and have exhausted the appeals process. You may also consider that some of the safest nations in the world do not have the death penalty in their law as a form of punishment.
Soldiers on the street provides some deterrent but does not nearly go to the heart of the problem. This initiative has the greater effect of creating a perception that something is being done to address the crime issue rather than actually doing something.
It is widely accepted that most, though not all, serious crimes are driven or influenced by an organised network involved and associated with the drug trade, human trafficking and arms trading in which gangs of mostly young brown men are the pawns in the larger game. This network, it is fair to deduce, requires, and many believe involves, the facilitation and involvement of prominent business people, law enforcement personnel (inclusive of coast guard, army, police and customs), the legal and judicial arm as well as policy makers. These gangs battle for turf to secure geographic space for distribution of product and are also aided by the ability to secure government infrastructure contracts. I don’t expect that this comes as news to anyone paying attention, but it sets out an important background which is needed to chart the way forward.
The anti-gang legislation was touted as an extremely important tool in the fight against crime because the government and the opposition both understand the role gangs play in the general insecurity we face as a nation and, it is the most visible scape goat for the larger, less visible players in this game.
As such, at best, the anti-gang legislation will turn out to be a mere plaster on a gaping wound even if properly implemented because the lower ranks are easily refilled.
In order to truly get to the root of the problem and make Trinidad and Tobago a safe place to live and conduct business, we must deal with the root causes of the crime scourge: the drug trade, human trafficking (fuelled by the illegal sex trade), illegal guns (used to protect drugs, human cargo and geographic turf), state funding of gangs and, importantly, policing.
The Drug Trade
The time has come for us to realize that the ‘war on drugs’ is in fact ‘a war on poor brown people’ to facilitate the expansion of vast fortunes of the real players. It is a colossal waste of national financial resources and does significantly more harm than good to society generally. The beneficiaries of the ‘war on drugs’ continue to be the traders in illegal drugs who benefit from the high prices, the suppliers of arms and ammunition, the public officials who benefit from bribes to look the other way, the security companies that profit from our fear and insecurity and legal professionals who earn their living from defending and prosecuting the offenders. In the interim the citizens’ taxes are wasted on policing, incarceration, public prosecution, public defence, court resources and healthcare.
The argument that one should be penalised by the state for self-harm is as ridiculous as the suggestion that the state is acting in the best interest of the individual by incarcerating him and permanently staining his record because he falls victim to drug use or abuse.
Any state seriously concerned about the welfare of the individual will ensure that drug abuse as with the abuse of alcohol, cigarettes and other prescription drugs, is viewed as a health issue and not a crime against that person.
One could legitimately argue that a programme of education and healthcare coupled with state legislated drug sales, sold through pharmacies, which, ensures drug quality, and which will generate income to fund these very awareness and healthcare programmes, is a far more sensible and progressive approach to dealing with this issue.
This approach immediately strips the gangs and their overlords of the income which fuels their very existence. It starves them of the oxygen required to survive and therefore strikes at the very heart of the national gang culture.
The immediate and tired response to this argument is that legalisation leads to a drugged-out population. There is absolutely no evidence to support this position. The evidence is actually to the contrary. One can look to Portugal for a medium to long-term analysis. In recent years there have been a number of countries and US States that have legalized or decriminalized the use of marijuana. Canada being the most recent example.
Marijuana is particularly important in this debate. As it has the potential to be a significant contributor to the sustainable diversification effort. Marijuana can be cultivated to meet the international demand for medical marijuana that has not only been shown to possess tremendous health benefits for chronic pain, mental disorders and cancer, but, can be an immediate source of foreign exchange earnings that could silence any talk of devaluation.
In 2016 the global legal marijuana market was valued at USD 9.3 billion. Since then new players have entered the market in the US, Canada and Israel. Even the UK grows marijuana for medical use.
This is not to say that the use of any harmful drugs should be encouraged. Education of the harmful effects must be rigorously spread from as early an age as possible.
The fact that prostitution (i.e. the voluntary exchange of sex for money) is a crime, is no more than a sad, hypocritical joke.
What real purpose does this law serve? To regulate the morals of the society? This law is farcical at best and cruel at worst.
Any state genuinely interested in the health and safety of vulnerable women who wish to engage in the temporary rental of their bodies in exchange for a fee, would be expected to find a way to treat with these women humanely, not dehumanize them further and incarcerate them.
It is far safer and healthier to bring the oldest profession in history out of the darkness and into the light where it can be properly regulated.
physical abuse which burdens families and the state alike.
Public education can then be embarked upon without stigma. Education is the key to enlightenment.
State Sponsored Gang Financing
This is pretty straightforward. People who are engaged in criminal activity must not have access to state contracts. If they have a criminal record and are claiming to have been reformed, such contracts must be properly supervised by a competent authority involved in rehabilitation accompanied by a well thought through body of rules.
Policing has been and will continue to be the first line of defence from crime for citizens. It is therefore imperative that the police service cultivates a reputation of being beyond reproach. At present, the perception is that citizens’ trust of the police is at an all-time low. This is both sad and scary.
Any government worth its salt would seek as a priority and duty to rebuild a non-partisan police service that holds every rank to account and gives citizens confidence to embrace and willingly treat with them.
The process for selecting a police commissioner has become a long, tedious, expensive exercise. In the UK, the most senior police officer is the head of the Metropolitan Police Service. To be eligible for selection, that person must have been a British citizen and served as a chief constable or equivalent UK rank. The candidates go through a process of psychometric testing and interviews by the Home Secretary, the Mayor of London and the Policing Minister. There has been call for further public engagement in the process, with the Home Secretary retaining the final decision. This process clearly puts the selection decision in the hands of an active member of the executive branch of government.
The recommended candidate could then be selected only after receiving the approval of at least two thirds of MPs in the House of Representatives. The Police Commissioner must then be subject to regular reviews by a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament and should have a fixed tenure, renewable by the same scrutiny of appointment. The Police Commissioner must simultaneously be accountable, autonomous and protected from political interference to obstruct or to direct with improper motives. However, as crime will always be a political issue, the Police Commissioner must be accountable to Parliament and it is only fair that the government should play a part in his selection and retention.
The lower ranks must be accountable to the Police Commissioner AND a fully empowered autonomous authority that regulates, investigates and prosecutes police misbehaviour. This authority should also be accountable to the same Joint Select Committee of Parliament that regulates the Police Commissioner.
There is no doubt that the new laws affecting drug use, gang funding and human trafficking would significantly reduce the corrupt influence on the police service however, there must be a zero-tolerance approach on all police corruption if the local and international reputation is to be rebuilt.
Psychological assessments to ensure the identification of abusive officers must form a regular part of operation. Police offences must be dealt with swiftly to prevent officers from going on indefinite leave awaiting the determination of these matters. Police Officers must also be properly remunerated, and their families buffered from injury or loss of life on the job.
For this reason, the TTPS must set higher standards for recruitment. It cannot be that people who are charged with the responsibility to guard our safety are compromised by any academic or social deficiency.
Police Officers must have the temperament to relate to people without abusing them and be able to engage and work with communities to build trust.
The Police Service must not be treated with contempt by the government but must instead be equipped with the most advanced crime fighting techniques and equipment available to carry out their duties.
Diversification and Foreign Exchange
“Despite the ever-increasing and unpredictable shocks from terrorist attacks and political instability, to health pandemics and natural disasters, Travel and Tourism continued to show its resilience in 2016, contributing direct GDP growth of 3.1% and supporting 6 million net additional jobs in the sector. In total, Travel and Tourism generated USD 7.6 trillion (10.2% of global GDP) and 292 million jobs in 2016, equivalent to 1 in 10 jobs in the global economy. The sector accounted for 6.6% of total global exports and almost 30% of total global service exports.”
“For the sixth successive year, growth in Travel and Tourism outpaced that of the global economy (2.5%). Additionally, in 2016, direct Travel and Tourism GDP growth not only outperformed the economy-wide growth recorded in 116 of the 185 countries covered by the annual economic impact research (including in major Travel and Tourism economies such as Australia, Canada, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa), but it was stronger than the growth recorded in the financial and business services, manufacturing, public services, retail and distribution, and transport sectors.” Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2017, World Travel and Tourism Council.
Tourism remains the best option for sustainable diversification of the economy, but it must not be with the traditional model adopted for the Hyatt, Magdalena or Sandals.
As stated above, Tourism is a multi-trillion-dollar industry. However, to maximise revenue it is essential that we own every or most parts of the value chain locally. That is to say: the physical infrastructure, the management, the marketing, the transportation and the booking agencies.
Needless to say, Tourism is only viable if we are able to provide a safe, clean and welcoming environment for tourists.
One of the many charms noted by visitors to Trinidad and Tobago, and especially Tobago, is the fact that most of the hotels are privately owned, boutique style facilities. As such, government should seek as a matter of policy, to encourage and facilitate the growth and development of the hotel and guest house sector along these lines.
The concessions and proposed investment of tax payers’ funds given to huge entities like Sandals could be much better served by facilitating new local entrants into the market and supporting those already involved in the industry.
The model of foreign ownership of our natural resources is not a sustainable nor wealth generating model. That model always leaves the local economy to depend on the crumbs.
The government must act to encourage a new breed of four, five and six-star hotel and guesthouse entrepreneurs with staff who together are trained to deliver impeccable service.
Hotel and hospitality management should become leading faculties at UWI and UTT so as to produce world class hospitality managers, chefs and support staff. Scholarships should target the internationally reputable institutions for this kind of training as well.
A great deal of money is spent on marketing firms across the globe that yield marginal success at best. It is proposed that the Tourism Ministry set up a company dedicated to the marketing of Trinidad and Tobago with the assistance of the various Diplomatic Missions and in conjunction with all the stake holders in the industry. Thus, pooling all available resources to maximise global impact of brand T&T.
This would result in direct advertising that could take the form of: international sport club stadium advertising; international tv and radio; international billboards in city centres, highways and railway stations; product placement in film and tv shows; international concerts in major city centres promoting local musicians; food festivals at upscale locations internationally; luxury magazines etc.
The development and hosting of international golf, cycling, swimming, tennis, motor sports, fishing, speed boat racing, sailing, football and boxing tournaments that put a year-round spotlight on the twin island state together with the mix of culture, eco, and traditional sun and sea products is critical to the overall product strategy.
Trinidad and Tobago is also perfectly positioned to be the airport hub to and from South and Central America to and from Europe and North America with the possibility of developing routes to the African and Asian continents.
We are also perfectly positioned to cultivate a cruise ship industry that starts in POS and takes the route to Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia, Barbados, Tobago and back to POS. This will significantly increase travel into the country and creates the market for a number of spin off services.
We can also build a large carnival village/museum/manufacturing centre that displays carnival costumes from the decades past and also manufacture costumes for the local, regional and international carnivals.
Another initiate is the creation of a large pan factory that doubles as an entertainment centre for visitors. Providing steel pan music which facilitating the manufacture, sale and export of the musical instrument.
As part of the plan, the POS waterfront can be extended from Movietowne to Sealots, providing entertainment, restaurants, water sports, hotels, golf course and living accommodation.
With some significant work, Laventille Hills and East POS can be transformed into cultural safe spaces similar to what was accomplished in Barcelona.
All of these initiatives are net forex earners.
The importance of having a national airline serving all major routes with the ability to offer packages cannot be overstated. Caribbean Airlines, if managed properly, can dominate the routes mentioned above, providing excellent service through improved planes and package holidays.
A large share of foreign exchange stays with booking agents if they are based outside of T&T. This especially applies where foreign management companies are retained to run the hotel facilities.
There is no reason why the marketing arm of the Tourism Ministry cannot also embrace bookings. This will allow a public/private partnership backed organisation to control all bookings and maximise revenue and profitability.
Tourism can be the next energy boom, but one that is sustainable and one that creates jobs at every level but it requires the shared vision and investment to make it possible. Think Qatar, Dubai, Bahamas and Maldives.
These to me, represent some of the priorities for moving Trinidad and Tobago to a safer, economically viable nation status. It is bold yet simple and achievable in the short to medium term.
It is a blueprintthat any serious government or opposition is free to adopt.