Protesters walk along Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain past SORT officers who secured an area during yesterday’s protest.

It is now almost two years since Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that he had set up a Community Recovery Programme team—aimed at good order—to help reconcile differences within troubled communities that were then involved in protests in Port-of-Spain.

At the time, the Prime Minister said he saw it as an appendage to the National Roadmap to Recovery plan.

“It’s recovery we’re aiming for,” Rowley said at a media conference, as he announced psychologist Anthony Watkins would head the team.

My understanding is that a report has been submitted to Dr Rowley and, as has been the case with so many reports to this Government and previous administrations, it appears that it is gathering dust and the promises of real change have not occurred.

In announcing the committee, Dr Rowley reminded that an attempt was made in 2004 to have a plan for inner-city youths, but it was halted by the UNC’s Wade Mark and others who claimed it favoured some.

He added: “I will not be dissuaded to change course from this (Recovery plan) by anyone who feels it has to do with race, religion or geography. This has to do with peace, safety and good order,” Rowley said.

“I’m hoping the response from the Government to the people who are hurting—all of them—would be one of conciliation. We heard you and we’re prepared to take action. Today isn’t a good day, but let us hope as we bury the dead which came about from our general shortcomings. We’ll resolve to make tomorrow a better day, not only for ourselves but also for those who live in communities like these.”

Well, the dead were buried and the plight of East Port-of-Spain and other at-risk communities remains.

The Prime Minister did this country a great disservice by telling the world that T&T is a violent society. I do not know where he lives, but I am confident that the great majority of the citizens are not violent and to seek to besmirch the country’s reputation was unbecoming of its self-proclaimed greatest salesman.

The country has high levels of crime perpetrated on us by a relatively small number of people.

Last month, 53 people were sent from this life to the great beyond by people who felt they had the right to kill others and they could do so with impunity.

The fact remains that with the detection rate around 10 per cent and the conviction rate even lower, people have good reason to feel that they can murder in this country with little chance of getting caught.

No one is saying that the murders and murderers are all, or even mainly from at-risk communities, but the continued lack of progressive action to assist these communities has a direct economic impact on the entire country.

The Government cannot pretend that it is unaware of the heightened cost of security to businesses all over T&T as they try to protect their lives and livelihood from those who feel they can take it with impunity.

The inability of some companies to run a third shift because of crime, the lack of productivity as people try to hustle home to avoid the risk to themselves and their families, the spend by households on cameras and security equipment; the cost of walls and fences, and, of course, the cost of doing business, are all intertwined with the level of crime in the country and the fear of crime.

Crime, of course, is multi-dimensional, but it is also clear that the inner-city communities, where opportunities are often limited because of a lack of sufficient access to services, including high-quality schools, utilities and respect for the society, all contribute to the generation of a feeling of them versus us, and a rationalisation for anti-social behaviour.

It also encourages the emergence of strongmen and women, aka community leaders, who provide the breach in leadership that the Government and institutions leave in these communities.

It is why the PNM which, for more than 65 years has gotten much of its sustenance from these areas, has a responsibility to solve some of the myriad of social and economic problems of East Port-of-Spain and Laventille, because it cannot just look on and leave the report on the shelve to gather dust.

In a study by Robert B Denhardt and Mark A Glaser titled, “Communities at Risk: A Community Perspective on Urban Social Problems,” it was suggested that there are many ways to tackle the challenge of at-risk communities to make them more sustainable.

It noted that a service delivery strategy should include many activities found in a public order strategy, including close working relationships between police and the community.

However, a service delivery strategy moves beyond informal community building, through programmes that meet basic human needs. And it may lead to the establishment of a formal community-based organisation, driven by community participation and with multiple purposes.

For example, these programmes may offer recreation, job training, drug abuse prevention and community-based child care. Although such programmes meet important needs, they also require new organisational and political skills, and they may require involved citizens to build linkages to external institutions.

“Services delivery strategies demand community leadership that is increasingly adept at building political bridges to the external community, including local government,” the report read.

In terms of a basic economic development strategy this, it said, should emphasise entrepreneurship and small business development as opposed to more recent economic development models that involve collective action such as community ownership of business enterprises.

It noted: “Strategic investments by government in the low-income community can lay the foundation for enhanced community identification, quality of life, and general attractiveness to business capital. In some cases, community-conscious businesses are willing to work with government and community representatives to create employment opportunities in low-income communities. Public-private partnerships can also be quite effective in producing business investment in such areas.”

A self, self-sustaining economic development focuses on collective economic development, a situation in which the whole of community activities exceeds the sum of specific interests.

This strategy assumes the community’s strong commitment to community-based organisation and community-based intervention focused on collective economic development.

Perhaps the PM is hoping that the country forgets the challenge of these at-risk communities and that what we saw two years ago and the fear it caused in the country, could be suppressed by the additional URP and CEPEP gangs and a swimming pool.

If that is the case, then the cynical approach is sure to lead us down the road to perdition.