By VASANT BHARATH
Only in Trinidad and Tobago could an election campaign have taken place without discussion of the most important national issue.
The just-concluded battle for Local Government supremacy lacked any debate or analysis of crime, which is, by far, the most critical matter affecting our besieged nation.
There was hogwash about cocoyea brooms, irrelevant talk about Cambridge Analytica, unsustainable promises of one economic gift or another and a vacuous pledge to create another municipality.
In the meantime, nationals were being killed in a hospital ward, in a moored boat, in their homes, along the streets, in their family gardens – and more.
Without hyperbole, it is fair to state that T&T has descended into one of the bloodiest non-war countries and is a large and lawless killing field.
For only the third time in the country’s entire history, the annual homicide rate is likely to top 500, making the land, per capita, one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Yet, flag-waving political fanatics, the media, independent institutions and analysts, the clergy and other stakeholders did not bring the ruling regime to account on the murder mayhem.
While it is acknowledged that the election was one of local government representation, it is also correct that community matters almost never feature on campaign platforms.
In addition, everyone concedes that the poll was a dress rehearsal for the upcoming General Election and that the two major parties were displaying their wares to the country.
Stuart Young and crime were absent from the campaign trail
Monday’s election offered insights into the public’s view of the stewardship of Keith Rowley’s PNM and Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s capacity to unseat the government and return to national office.
It is a crying shame that neither the crime epidemic nor its Line Minister Stuart Young featured on the campaign trail.
With its track record of performance, it is not surprising that the PNM ducked the issue during the campaign and chose that period to introduce parliamentary amendments to the Bail Bill.
With respect to the anti-bail legislation, Rowley clearly wanted to paint Persad-Bissessar as uncaring about the fight against crime in the Opposition’s bold refusal to support the amendments.
The government partly succeeded and had a bonus in Persad-Bissessar’s absence from Parliament, which the government painted as a sign that she is not interested in the anti-crime crusade.
A glut of laws has made no impact in the anti-crime war
The Opposition’s submissions during the debate were devoid of the character and depth expected in such a grave and urgent issue.
There is no gainsaying that the parliamentary Opposition lacks the aptitude and passion in effectively agitating on important national concerns.
The unconvincing Opposition response gave the government a virtual free pass and was also a huge let-down to those who are banking on efficient alternative leadership.
The Opposition did not challenge the fact that a glut of laws has made no impact in the anti-crime war.
In fact, the violent spree is surging in spite of legislation to strengthen the police, to haul in gangsters, to deny bail, to speed up the delivery of justice, to permit easier access to properties, to inquire into private affairs.
Passage of new laws and updating of existing ones are obviously not the cure-all to the bloodletting.
As has always been the case, there is a need for competent and focused political leadership and a holistic approach comprised of unrelenting crime-fighters, use of intelligence and surveillance and a speedier justice system.
Prime Minister Rowley’s detachment from the scourge is clearly meant to ascribe total responsibility to the Police Commissioner, who, in the person of Gary Griffith, has a loud bark even if his bite is not as vicious.
The reference point with respect to leadership came from Basdeo Panday, who, for a period, appended the Ministry of National Security to his prime ministerial portfolio, telling the country that he would directly manage the crisis.
Statistics prove that, of recent national leaders, Panday had the best success.
He squared off against the elephant in the room and fared reasonably well.
No other Prime Minister has had the courage to assume the Security portfolio.
T&T is collapsing into a dystopian land
The current administration has sacked a deadbeat National Security Minister and replaced him with a blusterer whose priority is scoring political points instead of keeping the nation safe.
He is served by junior ministers; whose functions and accomplishments are a closely-guarded secret.
In all of this, Rowley indulges in smokes and mirrors and his well-worn political showboating.
In opposition, he scolded the administration’s inability to tame crime, but in government, he is dodgy and creative in proffering excuses to an overwhelmed country.
Still, the Opposition did not confront the government on the hustings, thus permitting the ruling regime to continue to portray itself as continuously providing measures to the police service.
The painful truth is that the Rowley administration has long played all its hands on the crime plague and is currently running on empty, while the opposition has emerged as indifferent and sterile.
That reality provides no comfort to a country in which anyone could become the next homicide victim, with that crime earning a nominal mention in the media and remaining unsolved by the police.
The only remaining arsenal Trinidad and Tobago have in the struggle against crime is united and concerted citizen dissent and demonstration.
The failure of our leaders leaves the assignment on the shoulders of beleaguered and assailed nationals, who must speak with one voice and demand results from those at the helm and others vying to run the country.
There is ample current evidence of societies rising up against incompetent, ineffective and oppressive regimes, demanding the implementation of progressive policies and programmes. There would never be a more essential and serious campaign than that of preserving life and limb.
The ever-worsening bane of violence and the barrenness on both sides of the political divide must be the ultimate wake up call for citizens to affirm their determination to take back their land from criminals and useless leadership.
Failure to do so could soon see Trinidad and Tobago collapsing into a dystopian land, a graphic and bloody example of a murderous modern-day failed state.