St. Kitts and Nevis, February 15, 2017 (Positively Inclined): We cannot allow this charade the government calls its strategy to reduce crime and violence to continue unchallenged. On Thursday 9th February 2017, the Ministry of National Security held a “National Crime Reduction Symposium”. Press releases preceded it, pomp during it and self praise followed. What I have yet to hear amidst the self-congratulation and reminders why such praise is deserved, is the fact that this “symposium” is the third such “consultation” in a little over a year, that is, the government is spinning its wheels and tooting its horn but it is not moving.
1. November 2015, the UNDP along with the Government, held a National Consultation on Citizen Security. Seven months later,
2. June 2016 was the Ministry of National Security orchestrated “Consultations on Crime Reduction Strategy” by Neils Chitan. Now eight months later,
3. February 2017, the Ministry of National Security held its “National Crime Reduction Symposium”. This all sounds very involved but look deeper:
UNDP’s (November 2015) National Consultation brought stakeholders together in the very same way the Ministry’s Symposium (February 2017) did. There too, stakeholders were responsible for “coming up” with strategies to address crime and violence. If that process was fruitful, then why was there need for it again? Perhaps the consultant in this latest effort would somehow add value? It would appear that this is not the case since it was emphasized that Dr. Chitan is not responsible for designing the strategic plan, it is the responsibility of us the stakeholders. This considered, I return to the first question or rather, if the consultation (with the same format) was not fruitful, why is it being replicated?
Concerns worsen when one notes that the Ministry's (June 2016) consultation by the same consultant, Neils Chitan, day-one at the Zion Moravian Church, was essentially the presentation he did for the symposium at the Marriott days ago. This too signals pretense overall since the only addition I noted was that stakeholders were able to dialogue at their tables over whatever activity they were assigned. This very promising sounding "National Crime Reduction Symposium" then was a glorified team building exercise which would have been better organized and executed by the Ministry, than forced into a one-day session led by a consultant.
Even the consultant's presentation – the cornerstone of the symposium and forthcoming strategy – was hurried along by the Ministry and this after the symposium was already reduced from what the consultant indicated is usually a two-day process, to a one-day event. Was there something more important that the Ministry had to attend to? Certainly if no other activity warranted the absence from work of those who attended, it would be the most pressing national issue of the day, right? This then can't be an excuse as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security attempted to use as justification. One more question, is this the "sound fiscal management", which "results" in "surplus", "despite the numerous activities and initiatives, which have been implemented over two years" as that the Prime Minister boasts?
Surely the hefty National Security budget allocation can afford a two-day event? How can these efforts possibly be effective if we start out so poorly?
Curious to me as well, is that the Ministry’s (June 2016) “consultation” included meetings with various stakeholders, many of the same individuals who were present at the symposium, as indicated by Dr. Chitan. My previous note about the difference between this February 2017 consultation and the June 2016 consultation being time to dialogue, then comes into question since 1) I take it this was done during that (June 2016) “consultation” and 2) It would have been much more productive if these individuals considered the material Dr. Chitan presented then and prepared their recommendations within a reasonable timeframe thereafter. Notice, however, that such would not be “press-worthy” so considering the trend, it is not surprising the government elected to have what it called a “National Crime Reduction Symposium”, with a less effective approach but better positioned for news coverage.
This raises another issue however. We see that this process is essentially a duplication of one months prior and another months before that but there was to be a report coming out of the June 2016 consultations that has not been brought to the public and is the condition under which the consultant was said to be considered for full engagement. Where is this report?
Further, if we are now hearing that the strategy is ours to develop, not the consultant’s responsibility, what is he contracted to do and how is it different from what he was said to have done in June 2016? Further, how is what he did at the symposium (February 2017) different, at least in methodology, to what was done with the UNDP?
My concerns continue: I am anxious to read the report that was produced from the June 2016 consultations so that I may understand the basis on which Dr. Chitan was selected. I was personally so concerned with his initial presentation (June 05, 2016) that I did not attend any others. In listening (via radio) to his most recent presentation (at the symposium), my concern graduated to fear noting his problematic positions and lack of understanding (not knowledge but understanding) on the subject of crime and violence.
As a consultant entrusted to advise the government on how the crime and violence epidemic should be handled, Dr. Chitan is not in a position where he can confuse, for instance, the increased possibility that marijuana use and abuse by individuals predisposed to schizophrenia would trigger onset of the disease and the idea that frequent use across the board by youth would result in schizophrenia and further conflate this with findings that frequent use and abuse in youth would likely lead to brain damage. This dipping in and out of errancy is a dangerous matter, especially when the people made to believe these things are policy makers and further law enforcement. I did not hear Dr. Chitan speak to the fact that marijuana use should be seen as a public health issue rather than strictly a law enforcement issue. Rather, he fueled the fire of the confrontational tone the government already set in word and in practice, essentially, to my mind, supporting missteps by the government, like uprooting and burning large quantities of marijuana months ago which was one of the gravest mistakes from a long-term solution perspective, and as we saw, it had short to medium term negative implications as well.
A burning concern then is the question, what motivated his selection? If the government is impressed with Dr. Chitan and the mutually agreed upon approach, they have a lot to learn. All signs, however, do not indicate efforts toward acquiring this understanding, despite what is strategically made to appear for all intents and purposes, to be much effort on their part.
The Regional Security System’s (RSS’s) engagement for the government described operations, is a law enforcement approach to what the Prime Minister and Minister of National Security and numerous members of the administration reiterate time and time again is a problem in need of a “holistic”, “multifaceted” approach, requiring all stakeholders to come on board. Their actions to the contrary make evident not a commitment to this but to the speedy reduction of incidences of crime so that prosperity – money, not people – may not be affected as you would note the Prime Minister and members of the administration across the board lament.
Dr. Chitan, in outlining his “roots” of crime and violence, did not make evident this flagrant commitment to prosperity versus people as being a driving factor. His roots spoke, among other things, to the influence of media, music and web but he did not emphasize that media (music included) by itself does not influence behaviour, rather it is the personality of the consumer and the context of the content that is a greater factor to consider.
The artistes Dr. Chitan named were rappers, which fed into the ongoing misconception that our problem in the Federation and the region is that we are becoming too Americanized. This is despite the fact that the paradigm shifted over a decade ago, seeing Jamaican influence surpass America’s. Continuing to regurgitate this factor is indicative of not having given adequate consideration to shifting social dynamics. This is one of the things I go into with some depth in my book but will suffice to say here that Jamaican influence on our twin islands is evident in the music we produce, the way we speak, the way we dance, the way we dress and even the way music is deejayed, among other things. As a matter of fact, Jamaica’s influence stretches beyond the shores of the Caribbean, right into the music of artistes Dr. Chitan named like Drake.
Regarding the previously stated factor of context which influences media’s impact on crime and violence, I’ll use controversial Jamaican dancehall artiste Movado as an example. His name went hand in hand with Vybz Kartel’s, another controversial Jamaican dancehall artiste with tremendous influence. This was the case because during the peak of their careers they were rivaling and stood as dons of their respective territories, at least musically. Movado, in his 2009 St. Kitts Music Festival performance, wore a shirt with the words “F*** YOU” (the words were spelled out) boldly on the front, noting that artistes are not permitted to curse during their performance. In this way, Movado ingeniously circumvented this prohibition, performed the songs for which he is known as the “Gully God” and the very invitation to perform then (considering his content) were lessons to the population we are now pretending to care about and understand. If the message wasn’t clear enough then, the same artiste, Movado, is among the first announced to be on this year’s Music Festival lineup. This comes on the heels of last year’s fiasco with American rapper 50 Cent, who was arrested for cursing on stage (something he is known for but was invited nonetheless) then given extremely special treatment by our officials and I do mean extreme… open the courthouse solely for his release, despite never having opened on an off day though there was a backlog of cases, type of extreme.
Lil Wayne and Drake, who Dr. Chitan submitted as examples of artistes whose content influence criminal behaviour and I’ll add Movado, 50 Cent and Vybz Kartel (who was previously invited here for a political rally), are not the problem (certainly not by themselves) but our relationship to them. That for Movado’s actions he is positively reinforced with another invitation and the fact that these are the acts we continue to invite despite their repertoire and our simultaneous suggestion that they are the problem and our supposed interest in reducing crime and violence, is the factor behind the media, music and web influence on crime and violence and is just one factor among others.
These factors e.g. “media influence”, already being known by many but not understood, for example, in the context just described as being a greater factor than the musical content itself, are reinforced by Dr. Chitan’s presentations and consultation, only serving to further problematize the issue. But there’s another matter which lends itself to my assertion that this is all a charade. Ministers and others in the administration on St. Kitts and on Nevis, have continued to call for public involvement in the process of “addressing” crime and violence. Calls were made up to this past week at the symposium and even since then. While this should be satisfying to note because it would appear the process is open, “appear” is all it does.
Just ten days after the first of the June 2016 consultations, during which one such invitation for proposals was extended, I hand delivered a proposal for an original Crime Response Framework called “Begin Within”, to the Department of National Security for its Permanent Secretary and one copy to the Office of the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister of National Security. To date, I have not received any response nor have I ever been contacted. Calls, however, continue to be made publicly and talks continue to center around the “importance” of stakeholder engagement.
You know an administration has mastered the art of lip service when foreign bodies, the UNDP would contact me for their consultation (November 2015) and the USAID would contact me for the launch of their crime intervention project “YES” (November 2016) but the Government whose officials reside here and whom I contacted eager to serve, did not invite me to their consultation (February 2017) but continue to lament the need for stakeholder involvement and are purporting to be exploring all avenues.
Does that sound like a government working on addressing crime and violence to you? It certainly doesn’t to me.
My thought is, considering the seriousness with which I regard this issue and further my seeing this not as a problem of law and order but a problem of shortcomings at the socioeconomic and in particular the social level (a position they purport to agree with thus their adoption of terms like “holistic” and “multifaceted”), my work would have been much more than motivational talks which I garner is the crux of Dr. Chitan’s “consultation” (certainly a necessary part of the process but not the foundation of the process itself and his message and the target population are very much out of sync). In designing the strategy, I would have demanded considerable work on the part of the administration in reporting on what protocols exist, addressing shortcomings, reeducation, interdepartmental collaboration, programme design and implementation and more, including input from all stakeholders, rather than it being deemed the responsibility of stakeholders which sounds very nice but is much more bark than bite – calculatedly stated, to my mind, to set up the population to take responsibility for eminent failure when the smoke clears and the mirrors fall.
I would not be satisfied with work that makes for good headlines but is good for little more. I would have sought to remedy the epidemic, not simply capture and punish under the full weight of the law, offenders we purport to understand and care about (as we articulately relay a myriad of factors that contribute to their path) then aim to do just that – bury them behind bars with no attempt to help them, their families and the circumstances from which they came and which remain, guaranteeing the cycle will be perpetuated. I certainly would have fervently opposed the actions that were taken over recent months including engaging the RSS under the stated purpose. Note that it did not even bring short term benefit, bearing in mind that increasing police presence naturally brings with it a reduction in unlawful activity, be them local or foreign. This is equivalent to having a pair of eyes on children 24/7, they are not going to misbehave until you are no longer monitoring them as closely and it would only be a matter of time and indeed it was, havoc followed. It followed largely because the “strategic move”, that is, cutting the stream of income from marijuana, did nothing more than that – cut an income stream. The trade was still in play but there was nothing to trade and so other crimes served the purpose marijuana once did (and it is more than an income stream, as I mentioned it is a matter of public health; one does not simply take alcohol from an alcoholic and tell him to sit still). Other unlawful acts which seemed to escalate, including sexual assault, can also be understood in terms of that same “strategic” move, should understanding be pursued.
I thank the hard working officers across all of law enforcement’s arms and all involved in keeping the Federation as safe as it has been – no doubt it could have been worse. That is one of the things I don’t think we get, the current state of affairs may be bad by our standards, being a peaceful nation but there is a lot, a lot, a lot worse that things can become and this charade is our ticket there.
We are not to let this charade continue!