5 Dec 2010

Dissenting voices–silenced Animal Farm style

There seems to be an about-turn by the Trinidad Express to the PP Government. For the past several days, I have noticed an alarming trend in the comments forum, where any posts that supports of defends the positions or personas in the news articles are deleted by the administrators quick time. How quick? Within minutes.

It occurs to me that dissenting voices, no matter how sensible the opinions, are easily being silenced with the touch of a mouse and keyboard. No matter that the only opinions published are negative, the newspaper disallows anyone engaging in even a moderately intelligent debate.

Take for example this article:

ATTORNEY GENERAL Anand Ramlogan last Tuesday told senior officers of the Police Service that social television programmes such as Ian Alleyne's Crime Watch were solving more crimes than the police.

Ramlogan read the riot act to the 35-plus senior officers gathered at a meeting called by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in her capacity as head of the National Security Council, to discuss new initiatives to deal with the country's spiralling crime situation, including the increase in murders.

He challenged the officers to each formulate five new crime-fighting initiatives.

"We are fed up of the same thing over and over... Come up with something new," the AG told the officers.

The meeting, which took place at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain, included National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy, Minister in the Ministry of National Security Subhas Panday, Justice Minister Herbert Volney, Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs, interim director at the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (SAUTT) Col Albert Griffith and Acting Chief of Defence Staff Col Kenrick Maharaj.

    • Several senior officers who attended the meeting, which consisted of the police executive and heads of divisions and police sections, said they left despondent, demoralised and were contemplating going on leave and submitting early retirement papers.
    • They accused Ramlogan of "crossing the line" and "overstepping his boundaries". Several of the officers said Ramlogan's contribution was distasteful, disrespectful and insulting, saying the AG went overboard when he attacked the performance and authority of the senior police officers.
    • One officer said: "Who is he to come and speak to us and the commissioner in that way? What authority does he have as Attorney General to walk in here and criticise our efforts to deal with the crime situations?
    • "He is a loose cannon and appears to be the Government's vociferous pit bull. Imagine he said if he had his way, he would have polygraphed each and every one of us at that meeting," another senior cop said.

Commissioner Gibbs also received a tongue-lashing from Ramlogan for what the AG described as Gibbs' inability to bring new crime-fighting ideas to the table.

After Ramlogan's tirade against the inability of the police to arrest the crime situation, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar reportedly told Gibbs to, "Don't take it personally," since members of the public want to see immediate results.

Contacted on Thursday about what transpired in the meeting, Gibbs said, "That was a private meeting, and I do not wish to discuss it in public."

Minister Ramadhar, the Sunday Express was told, questioned Gibbs regarding the initiative that was in place before his appointment as commissioner and under which T&T saw a significant decrease in homicides and serious crime throughout the country.

Ramadhar was referring to the 90-day crime-reduction initiative implemented by Deputy Commissioner Stephen Williams, who was, at the time, acting as commissioner of police.

During Williams' acting tenure, which ran from August 30 to September 21, after then acting CoP James Philbert was sent home by the Police Service Commission one month before his tenure came to an end, the country had benefitted from a major reduction in crime and criminal activities.

Williams had mandated his executive and heads of various policing divisions to conduct 24-hour exercises and patrols, which resulted in the extension of the normal working hours for police officers. Persad-Bissessar had expressed her satisfaction with the initiatives implemented by Williams and his executive.

At the end of last Tuesday's meeting, Persad-Bissessar told reporters it was agreed that SAUTT and the Defence Force would lend all the necessary support to the Police Service to deal with the crime situation.

She said she was satisfied with some of the short and long-term plans outlined to her by the security chiefs, which included an increase in joint army and police patrols. [Report format slightly modified for this blog]

I posted the following comment:

People are bashing the AG, but for decades the crime situation has been going downhill. Recall that acceptance in the police service was 3 O levels (or a school leaving certificate) way back in the days. People who got into the service then are the ones who rose by seniority and are leading smarter, more educated workforce.

Unfortunately, a combination of ego, attitude and minimal management skills (along with other factors obviously) tend to see the brutish leaders more bereft of ideas than the generally discerning public. Ego gets in the way of acceptance of idea that may work, as seen from dozens of shelved reports and recommendations.

The AG is right to chastise the upper echelons. Did he go overboard? Not in my opinion. For far too long they have had an easy life, corrupt and coasting along. Now they are being challenged to work, and typical Trini attitude, they choose to attack the messenger instead of rising to the challenge. With over 500 deaths per year, and nearly 100,000 SERIOUS crimes in the last 6 or so years, I have no sympathy for them.

Those who threaten to walk should be given their marching papers and shown out to the pasture. After all, they have been grazing on magnanimous public goodwill for far too long.

Within minutes it was removed. 3 times I posted it, 3 times it was removed in less than 2 minutes. Maybe I have to write to the AG for help to uphold my right to freedom of expression?