If at Tuesday’s parliamentary meeting the main concern of Vieux Fort North MP Moses Jn Baptiste was understandably for still suffering victims of Hurricane Tomas, particularly in Bexon and in his constituency, equally obvious was that the prime minister’s focus was on Saint Lucia’s murderous crime wave.
His address on the occasion began this way: “One of the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country is to feel secure, whether in their homes or while engaging in social activities.”
He underscored the fact that crime was undermining the ability of the authorities to provide citizens with a sense of peace and acknowledged that “our public spaces are no longer considered environments where we can relax and build community,” that we “live in fear because criminal elements have been able to prey on the vulnerable minds of our youth in an attempt to destabilize our country . . .”
Of course, none of that was new. Indeed, the prime minister was echoing complaints heard up and down the country for the last several years. What most complainers wished to hear instead was how the authorities planned to bring relief. Already many were making it known they believed neither the government nor the opposition had solutions to the crime problem and that the police were helpless in their circumstances.
As if already the nation was not fully acquainted with the deadly statistics, the prime minister said: “Colleagues, this crime wave did not commence last year. Since 1998 there has been a steady increase in the number of annual homicides. By 2000 we had reached an all-time high of 23, with the cathedral murders listed as among the worst acts of violence against our people. By 2006 we had recorded 43 homicides but 2007 saw a decline to 25. However, after 2008 the escalating trend returned and in 2010 we reached a record 48 homicides. For more than a decade our country has been under siege and we must now take decisive and coherent measures to stop the drug activity, to stop the gang violence, to stop the murders and restore our country.”
For once there was no taking credit, no dishing out of criticism against the other side.
The prime minister said the time had come to stop the finger pointing of which both parties in the House had been guilty. He said the government had developed “a comprehensive strategy that will entail the engagement of the resources of government, civil society, the private sector, all political parties, and all our churches. We cannot do it alone . . . we are in this together and must together find the solution.”
As if echoing the message of Father Jason Biscette at a recent funeral for a murder victim in Castries, attended by the leaders of the UWP and the SLP, the prime minister promised: “Once we meet and agree on a shared vision and strategies, the government will ensure that all the implementing agencies are given the resources to enforce.”
He took the opportunity to apologize for his late response to a letter from the St Lucia Labour Party that he received last October. Signed by the East Castries MP Philip J Pierre, it centered on the publicized allegation that either “a high ranking government official” or “a prominent citizen” had ordered a hit on the former SLP vice chairman Claudius Francis. Recovery efforts associated with Hurricane Tomas had prevented an earlier response to the MP’s request for a bi-partisan committee to investigate the circumstances relating to the alleged threat on the life of Mr Francis, said the prime minister. Now that he had agreed he awaited further word from Mr Pierre as to his availability.
“Let us now commit ourselves today to tackle together the problem of crime wherever it exists,” the prime minister added. “Let us have zero corruption in the police force. Let us engage our youth. Let us dialogue with each other and let us take our country back.”
Remarkably, there was no further reference during Tuesday’s House meeting to the prime minister’s suggestion of a concerted effort by both sides of the House against crime but sources close to the East Castries MP have disclosed his intention to take the prime minister at his word.
Said our source: “Mr Pierre will soon inform to the prime minister when he and his delegation will be available for a meeting on the way forward.”
There has been no public comment by the opposition leader on the prime minister’s invitation to set up a politically-united force against crime. Meanwhile, Dr Anthony has issued a disturbing public statement to the effect that police intelligence in Saint Lucia has been greatly compromised, with dire consequences for crime fighting. He supplied no supportive details. In any event, the security minister has denied Dr Anthony’s allegation, with support from acting police commissioner Vernon Francois!
Hopefully our politicians will have learned from their Jamaican counterparts the
lessons from politicking with crime!