Ronald Thwaites | Turn criminal gangs into construction gangs
That is the only way the special zones legislation passed last week is going to contribute to sustained crime reduction and youth uplift.
Avert the idleness and poverty of undereducated and poorly socialised youth by putting them to work, rebuilding their often squalid communities and exposing them at the same time to remedial education and skills upgrading.
Instead of turning the soldiers into policemen, let them lead the fight against crime by organising and supervising desperate young people to tear down zinc fences, fix roofs, build proper bathrooms, create parks, and construct sites and services units.
Turn criminal gangs into construction gangs. Those who refuse to participate and have no other work or reasonable excuse, those are the ones who should attract the particular attention of the security forces.
We have the money to do this right now. Take the $11 billion that the Government will be drawing from the overrich and indolent National Housing Trust every year and spend it to achieve at least three major objectives. First, rescue and improve human capital. Next, renew housing and community infrastructure, and third, reduce the scourge of violence.
This is not a giveaway scheme, either. Except for the really indigent, owners who benefit from the gangs of construction, rather than being held hostage, as now, by gangs of marauders, must pay back for the improvements they receive on soft and extended terms. This way, part of the money will revolve.
Last Wednesday in Parliament, Audley Shaw admitted that the NHT drawdown might well not be needed for budgetary support, given the bullishness of revenue collection. And he avoided entirely my challenge to him to take a close look at public expenditures, which would show billions of dollars of inefficiency and waste that, better applied, could avert the 'praedial larceny' of what are really trust funds from the NHT.
But using the money to rebuild the nation's inner cities and decimated rural communities would restore the morality of the drawdown and fulfil the expectation of housing uplift which people had when they contributed to the NHT in the first place.
More than anything else, the project would repair the injustice done to the hundreds of thousands who pay but cannot receive a benefit. This is one big reason why so many of our people have little interest in becoming part of the formal economy.
Consider also that the construction industry is one of the main drivers of economic growth. This is the sector that can absorb large numbers of unskilled persons, ex-convicts, deportees and other desperate people.
The increase in aggregate demand for goods and services from these resources, spent creatively, mostly at the base of the society, would lift family life, enhance school attendance and outcomes, and open the way to inculcate better values and attitudes.
This is the kind of project that Parliament, not to mention the one-sided Growth Council, should take up now. Bring together the skills of the private sector, those with expertise in education and training, the security forces and the state agencies, in an effort that would ease the paranoia of the people; preserve, rather than encroach on, the rights of citizens; and restore trust, which is the scarcest and most valuable civic commodity of all.
Poverty of spirit and imagination, as well as political and social arrogance on the part of our leaders, not money, are the only obstacles.
In our time and with our resources, we can transform 'special zones' of criminality into special zones of reconstruction and livity.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.