KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Vincentians should not be satisfied with saying that the country’s murder rate is lower than their Caribbean neighbours, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said in his budget address Monday.
He further said that crime should be discussed outside of the partisan political debate.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, said that crime “stabilised somewhat” in 2011, “though still at an unacceptable level, in comparison to previous years and the crime rate regionally”.
He noted that this country last year recorded 25 homicides, two fewer than in 2010.
“Regionally, the homicide rate is unacceptably high, not only in countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, but in many other CARICOM countries,” he said.
“However, we cannot, and must not, be satisfied with merely asserting that things are not as bad in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, crime-wise, as compared to the rest of CARICOM. The things-are-not-as-bad thesis contains the danger of complacency to which we must never succumb on this critical issue. We must thus be evermore tough on crime and on the cause of crimes,” he told Parliament.
“First, though, we must in this country take the partisan political discourse out of the war against crime. We are all in this together. There is nothing ULP or NDP about crime. When discussing this subject we must present facts; seek the truth from the facts; analyse the issues dispassionately and rationally; make practical and effective proposals to tackle crime; and then let us all work together on fighting crime,” he further said.
He said that the nature of man results in a propensity to break the law and a crime-free society will exist only in Heaven.
“However, in this earthly city we must strive to curtail crime and reduce it to an acceptable minimum, consistent with the highest possible level of civilised living.”
Gonsalves noted that this country first recorded 20 murders in one year in 1998 and then in 2000, 2002, and 2009.
In 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2010, this country reached the 25-murders-per- year barrier and slightly beyond while in 2007, 36 suspected murders were recorded.
Since 1998, 13 or fewer murders per year were recorded in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2006, he further added.
“These figures should remove any temptation for ridiculous, partisan political finger-pointing and ought to remove from serious consideration any simplistic, ― economistic‖ causation for homicide particularly when read in conjunction with the data on GDP performance and poverty/indigence levels,” Gonsalves said.
“Indeed, the economistic explanation is unavailable as the fundamental, principled, major or root cause of crime. The overwhelming body of comparative literature and research on this subject, globally, including the Caribbean, shows the causation of crime, to be exceedingly complex and many-sided,” Gonsalves said.
He listed among the central causal factors “family and kinship considerations, the socialisation process, a culture of crime in particular sections of communities, peer group pressure or influence, crime as a matter of choice, psychological predispositions or deviance, greed, evil, economic impetus of one kind or another, and low rates of detection and conviction.
“Clearly, the response to crime has to be many-sided, including the mechanisms of the family, the church, the school, community groups, positive peer group activities, the media, sports, music, culture, the private sector, the Police Force, the Law Courts, the Prisons — including rehabilitation –, social and economic programmes, regional and international cooperation arrangements, and the ameliorative work of several other apparatuses of the state,” Gonsalves said.
“I again appeal to every law-abiding citizen and resident to work assiduously together to curb criminal activities and to influence the tiny minority of criminal elements in our midst to turn away from crime, especially serious crimes of violence, including those against women and children. We cannot afford to lose this war.”
In 2012, the recurrent expenditure for the Police Force is budgeted at EC$$28.56 million, EC$$2.98 million for the Fire Service, and EC$$3.82 million for the Coast Guard, a total of EC$$35.36 million.
EC$5.5 million goes to the Prisons, EC$$1.4 million as the nation’s contribution for the RSS, EC$$133,152 for salaries for the staff of the National Commission on Crime Prevention, EC$$418,920 for the staff of the Forensic Unit, EC$$2.38 million for the Passport and Immigration Department, EC$$675,000 as a subvention to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU); EC$$1.75 million for the Port Police, and a grant of $120,000 for the Cadet Force.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said on Tuesday that government should not be blamed for homicide and that a concerted effort is needed to address the situation.