The parliamentary opposition has tabled a motion on crime in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for debate during the meeting of Parliament later this month.
The meeting of the national assembly, slated for March 21, is the third for the year and private member motions are supposed to take precedence.
Traditionally, “private members” had been interpreted to mean the opposition, but the Unity Labour Party administration has said that it includes government senators.
And, government senator Ashelle Morgan tabled a private member’s motion on tertiary education during the last sitting of Parliament, on Feb. 23, and that is still on the order paper for debate.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday said on radio that opposition lawmakers have submitted a motion on crime “because that is what is most on people’s minds.
“And we have, again, in that call for the broad-based national approach where you have all parties and civil society groups, individuals, and so forth — church groups, everybody that I mentioned earlier and more who will form a unified approach through an organisation or a body that will look at the problem, deal with it dispassionately and take the politics out of it because it affects everybody,” Friday said.
He, however, said that whether the motion would actually be debated, “we’ll have to see”, adding that he did not know why the government would also table a motion “except that they wanted to take priority over our motion”.
Parliament was slated to meet on Monday, but Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced on Wednesday that the meeting will be pushed back by a week.
The opposition leader was speaking on his weekly appearance on his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) News Times programme on NICE Radio after news broke on the weekend that St. Vincent and the Grenadines had recorded its 10th homicide this year.
Friday said that over the last seven years or so, the homicide count in the country seemed to be averaging in the mid 30s, with a record 42 last year.
He said that while the country would hope that 10 would be the final count, “given what we have seen in the past several years, we know that that’s not going to be the case, it’s not likely to be the case”.
Friday said what is important is that people get assurance from the police that they are doing the investigations, adding that when homicides occur, people should be held liable and accountable, and brought to justice in a timely manner.
The opposition leader, who is also a lawyer, said that in this way, the people can have “confidence that our criminal justice system is working on behalf of the people.
“We have seen evidence where there are people who are highly connected, whose names are up there in the government’s high political circles, who have been charged with offences and they’ve gone through the system, and they have not been found guilty. That is part of how the system functions.
“But we need to also ensure that all of the other persons who are accused of offences, particularly egregious offenses, the serious offenses, like homicide, accused of murder, manslaughter, rape, sexual violence, robbery, that those offences are treated with the utmost seriousness, and the people are held accountable,” Friday said.
He said that praedial larceny – the theft of livestock and farm produce — is also a major problem.
“These things are all crippling our economy. They’re all creating hardship for people and putting everybody on edge. And we do not have the assurance from the Minister of National Security who is the prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, we do not have the assurance from the Commissioner of Police that all that can be done is being done.”
The opposition leader said that fighting crime is not just a matter of putting boots on the ground.
“It’s also creating conditions that give people, especially young people or young men, positive alternatives,” he said, adding that this is what the NDP sought to do years ago when it proposed the Social and Spiritual Redemption Charter.
“This is something that is intended to say, ‘Listen, fighting crime is more than just policing. It’s also providing social programmes, providing organizations that can help to guide people.,” Friday said.
The Social and Spiritual Redemption Charter is the NDP’s proposal for the use of moral teachings to address social ills. It includes financial support from the state for organisations such as Scouts, Girl Guides, Pathfinders, and Cadets that seek to develop model citizens
Friday said: “What we noticed is that young people who are involved in the Cadets, for example, who are involved in church groups, they are far less likely to engage in criminal activity. So that tells you that prevention is still the best method of dealing with crime, especially violent crime in our country.”
He said this is where the government should be investing.
“It costs a lot less to provide social programmes to someone than to incarcerate them. It costs a lot less for society, from an economic point of view, the spending, but also from the potential of that individual being wasted in jail, incarcerated where it could have been used, if properly channelled in a more constructive way to create opportunities for himself or herself and benefit society at large and provide for their families.”
Friday said there is also the heartache and the pain that victims of crime, especially violent crime, may never overcome, or suffer for a long time.
“But where a loved one was snatched away in a criminal act, that is something that a family will never overcome,” Friday said, adding that he was glad to hear that the crime situation is on people’s minds, as it should be.
“Because we are losing, if we have not yet done so, the ability to assure people that what is being done by the police will bring the matter under control,” the opposition leader said.