Taking a stand against lawlessness Editorial
Stabroek News
July 27, 2004

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In his weekly 'Frankly Speaking' column last week captioned 'Go Commander Slowe, go' Mr A.A. Fenty got it exactly right. Welcoming Assistant Commissioner Paul Slowe back to the capital city from Berbice as Commander of "A" Division, he noted recent steps to prosecute the many noise nuisances that exist all over Georgetown and urged Mr Slowe not to make this a one-shot campaign. It is worth quoting at some length what Mr Fenty wrote:

"Commander, I'm confident that you appreciate that this concept and practice of periodic campaigns will not capture and maintain the full co-operation and respect of the public, if it is not sustained with some longevity and permanence. In other words, any worthy campaign must be made continuous, permanent. Occasional and habitual perpetrators and law-breakers must know that your enforcement will not go away, will not be any one-shot temporary exercise. Incidentally, may I suggest that you - and your superiors - use all methods to educate the public just why a specific enforcement 'campaign' is in their interest and the interest of the wider community? Even as any such exercise is being executed.

"So as I register this column's whole-hearted support for your justified assault against the late-night noisemakers, I urge you to be relentless too against the minibuses, mobile music carts, sound systems in residential neighbourhoods, those 'amplified' churches, etc.

"I suspect too, Sir, that when you operated under the charismatic commissioner Laurie Lewis, you regretted that he could not fulfil adequately his desire and boast regarding zero tolerance - in terms of the most minor offences committed by citizens. You knew you all had neither the man-power or all-agencies support to exercise that most worthy policy.

"For I put it to you commander, zero-tolerance is actually the answer to our now cancerous, deep-rooted disrespect for all laws. In Guyana today when the lawless, the rich, the ignorant, the upstart or the career criminal, knows that they can ride without lights or bells, they don't have to stop at identifiable bus stops, taxi terminals can appear anywhere, CBR motor-cyclists ignore helmets, and the law against tinted windows is laughed at, these small, everyday, routine infringements lead to larger violations later.

"I am aware, Commander, that no man is an island. You can't do it all, on your own. But so confident am I in you, I share, I repeat the under-mentioned."

He went on to talk about the prevalence of guns and knives and other ongoing problems.

Citizens are in a state of despair about the prevailing lawlessness which ranges from scattering litter everywhere, throwing chicken boxes and other items out of cars and obscene language in public to a host of other obnoxious practices. There has been a collapse of manners and discipline, almost anything goes. Few people really like this, but unless some kind of discipline is imposed behaviour will continue to deteriorate.

Illegality is now almost taken for granted. One businessman recently estimated, somewhat rashly perhaps, that as many as one in every three businesses is involved in money laundering. Though this may be extravagant, close scrutiny will surely indicate which stores are offering unrealistically low prices (which may indicate smuggled goods or laundering) and a haphazard approach to business that clearly suggests that profit is not the main criterion. Indeed it has been suggested that money laundering extends to and includes sections of the entertainment, commercial, manufacturing, agricultural and even media industries. There is a corrosive cynicism about what's going on and one suspects, as Mr Fenty clearly does, that if a few honest and energetic senior policemen like Mr Slowe and Commissioner Felix throw the gauntlet down and institute a new regime of zero tolerance for all crimes, starting with petty ones, there would be massive public support. As Mr Fenty rightly says, they should declare their intentions clearly and publicly in advance and seek the full moral and practical support of law-abiding citizens and the various civil institutions. Mr Fenty had also previously suggested that citizens stop doing business with businesses that they know to be involved in money laundering and a similar proposal has just been put forward by a leading businessman in Jamaica.

The collapse may have started a long time ago and was severely aggravated by things like paramountcy of the party, which led to the cult of the party card and put a premium on connections not efficiency, and rigged elections which introduced widespread corruption in a vital area of public life. Some malpractices are now almost endemic. But a stand has to be made at some time. The longest journey starts with a single step. As Mr Fenty put it, Go Commander Slowe, go.