Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has rejected the opposition’s argument that people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are killing each other out of frustration.
“Well if you’re frustrated, if you don’t kill somebody, you’re gonna kill yourself,” said Gonsalves who is Minister of National Security, said in the Budget Debate.
“But how come the suicide rate in St. Vincent and Grenadines is the fourth lowest in the world? They say we have a high homicide rate. But we have a very low suicide rate and thank God that people value their own life,” he said.
“But some people don’t value other people’s life. And what is the reason? Is it the reason because of Ralph? Or the police? Anybody who says that does not understand the set of factors which would make somebody a murderer,” Gonsalves said.
He was speaking after SVG recorded a historic 42 homicides in 2022, two more than the previous record in 2016.
The country has recorded two homicides for 2023, including a man who died after an encounter with police.
In the Budget Debate, opposition lawmaker Fitz Bramble, criticised Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration for its handling of crime in SVG.
The East Kingstown MP said the 2022 homicide rate was “another historic first” under the ULP administration.
“And can you imagine the Honourable Minister of National Security, the Honourable Prime Minister repeatedly goes on radio and wherever other audience he can attract and talks about it’s only a handful of thugs, or whatever the word he uses, that’s responsible for this?” Bramble said.
“Well, if I were the Minister of National Security, I’d be ashamed to say that. Because if only a handful of thugs can create a record number of murders in this country, and you cannot do anything about it, you ought to resign. Plain and simple.”
He further said that Gonsalves went on radio and said there needs to be more police boots on the ground and that he hoped Commissioner of Police Colin John was listening.
“Is that how you create and craft national security policy by going on the radio and calling out something and hoping that the Commissioner of Police is listening?” Bramble said.
“This is the same prime minister who accused and chastised former Prime Minister Sir James and former Commissioner of Police Randolph Toussaint as being responsible for the state of crime in this country — for cocaine and all that stuff? So he ought to take responsibility just the same now,” Bramble said.
He said the government talks about Pan Against Crime and Sports Against Crime.
“But what are we benefiting from it? People are literally afraid to walk out at night and after hours,” he said.
“We cannot trivialise this we cannot politicise this because the way things are happening, any of us could be the next victim. Come on! This is serious stuff and we are to address it with the same degree of seriousness.”
‘culture of crime’ in some communities
But Gonsalves said that the issues that would cause someone to kill start in your home. He said most of the homicides are committed by young men
“You can’t not pay any attention to your son in the family, … you can’t not take care of your son, when he’s 14 and he becomes uncontrollable you say that ain’t your problem, that is Ralph’s problem. Well, he’s all of us problem.”
The prime minister said there is a role for the home, the school, the church, and the community in combatting crime.
He said there needs to be a greater police presence on the ground, adding that he has spoken about it publicly,” he said.
The prime minister said Bramble “never run anything in his life” but was accusing him of not making policy properly.
“I talk about it in private but I also talk about it publicly so that the public will know what I’m telling the police leadership and what we have agreed upon and that is important,” Gonsalves said.
He said the “culture of crime” in certain small communities, where crime is committed by a small number of persons, spills over to the youth living there.
“And that’s why the family and teachers and the churches are very important. The community — I talked about that earlier.”
Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for the police force, said the country has five times the global average of police for every 1,000 people.
“We also spend on other dimensions of the legal apparatus — law and order, citizen security. This is not a money issue,” he said, adding that EC$95.78 million of the EC$1.4 billion budget was allocated to this.
“We increased the size of the police — we doubled it since 2001 … More divisions have been created; better trained, better equipped. There is an overall strategy laid out approved in this Parliament as early as 2003 and been amended.”
Top homicides rates, lowest suicide rates
The prime minister said the opposition’s solution to crime is “either they say the same things that what we are doing, but not even enough as what we are doing or what is their fallback line? ‘Well, Ralph did say Commissioner Toussaint and Mitchell were responsible for crime.’
“I never said that,” Gonsalves said. “I said they must be more — the authorities must be very more careful in dealing with cocaine coming in, because the largest haul of cocaine came in under their watch — one long tonne. I was involved. I know about the case because I was a lawyer for the accused persons. So I spoke in that context.
“And the truth is this that rivalries over cocaine and other rivalries develop as a result, and lead to gun violence.”
The prime minister said that one of the biggest problems is the ease with which guns are coming out of the United States.
“Of the top 10 countries in the world with homicides, they are in the Caribbean and Latin America. At the same time, the lowest rates of suicide of the top 10 are from the Caribbean and Latin America. And one of the things which is consistent is the easy availability of guns. And because in America, you can get guns so easily and they come through the shoot.”
He said there was evidence, and it is being investigated, that “one of the guns which we got the other day here” was “used in a crime in a particular state in the United States of America.
“Because one of the things which would know and the Honourable Attorney General would know this because he had been involved in this, when fellas use a gun somewhere else, they try to dispose of it as quickly as possible and get it out of the jurisdiction. That’s part of the usual MO and it is all locked up with the trade in cocaine.”
Attorney General Grenville Williams is a former head of the Financial Intelligence Unit and a former director, Asset Recovery Unit of the Regional Security System, which is based in Barbados.
“It’s a multifaceted thing. It’s an all-of-society approach, plus regional cooperation and international cooperation,” Gonsalves said of addressing crime.
“I’m happy to see that there are more police on the ground; they have adjusted their leave system. And there’s some other measures which have been taken, which I can’t talk about publicly, and I’m hoping that the community too will assist the police,” he said.