Poverty, Unemployment and Crime!
Hello again Saint Lucia,
Last Tuesday evening, the Youth Apprenticeship Programme (YAP) was finally
launched. It is the latest in a series of programmes established by this
Government since 1997, all aimed at providing skills, opportunities and
employment, particularly for young people. Some 500 young people will enjoy work
experiences for a period of six months at a salary of eight hundred dollars per
month. Next year, a thousand young persons will enjoy a similar experience.
YAP is a venture that will be undertaken jointly by the Public and Private
sectors. I have spoken about the YAP several times before. Today, however, I
want to use it as a launching pad to discuss three other issues that most people
normally connect to our young people. I speak of poverty, unemployment and
As you know, of late there have been reports of the successes of the police in
thwarting at least two armed robberies, one in the North and the other in the
South. In the ensuing debate about crime, some have suggested -- with quite an
air of certainty -- that unemployment causes crime. They claim, rather
simplistically, that the higher the unemployment rate, the higher the crime
If this is true, then the crime rate in Trinidad & Tobago should be the lowest
in the Commonwealth Caribbean, since that country has the lowest unemployment
rate. Yet, that is not so. Why? Take another example. The economy of the United
Kingdom is one of the better performing economies in Europe at this time. Yet,
drug trafficking and drug consumption are rising at alarming rates. Why?
Now, let’s be real. Do not try to tell me there are exceptions to every rule or
trend. What these examples tell us is that we have to be more sophisticated in
our analysis of the causes of crime. We are cheating our society by offering
simple-minded explanations to issues that are complex.
LEST WE FORGET…
Those who say crime is the result of unemployment would like you to believe that
it is because of joblessness that people turn to crime. They would also have you
believe that only unemployed young people engage in criminal activities. But
those who are familiar with our history know that is far from the truth. We have
previously been through periods of very serious unemployment in this country
when benefits were limited and survival was a major struggle. Yet, during those
periods the crime rate remained fairly constant. But today some would like you
to believe that unemployment has reached unprecedented levels and as a result,
crime has gone through the roof.
I am certain that many of you can recall those days – in the late 80s and early
90s – when the then Prime Minister often wondered aloud, in addresses to the
nation, what had become of St. Lucia and why people no longer felt free to walk
the streets safely. In those days, the Prime Minister suggested publicly that
there was an alliance between top police officers and the criminals and drug
lords. Drugs disappeared from Police Stations and Customs warehouses and turned
up on the streets. The drug gangs fought open wars on the streets, shooting at
each other in public and in broad daylight. Those old enough to remember cannot
forget the days of frequent incidents of gunplay in Castries at “High Noon”.
Do you remember Police Superintendent Etienne Alphonse, who was shot in cold
blood by a person or persons still unknown? We must not forget the purported
instances of crime carried out by persons wearing police or military uniforms.
Need I remind you of that time when it was alleged that certain Prison officials
accepted “gifts” such as beds and refrigerators from jailed drug barons, in
exchange for allowing them the freedom to run their businesses from inside the
jail? Do you remember how often drug barons who ought to be in prison were
allowed to visit their homes and spend time with their wives and girlfriends in
exchange for compensation?
All that was supposed to be happening in “better economic times.” Jobs were
supposed to have been available, yet still criminal activities persisted. Back
then, unemployment was no more responsible for crime than it is today. And it is
certain that if Saint Lucia records a 100% employment rate, criminal activities
would still persist.
Of course, no reasonable person would totally deny that providing job
opportunities for the unemployed reduces the chances of them engaging in
criminal activities. But to say that unemployed persons have no choice but to
turn to a life of crime is absurd. It is equally absurd to say that people
commit crime because they are poor. Some of the poorest persons I know are among
the most decent law abiding citizens in St. Lucia. They resent criminal
activities and have never found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Making these generalizations can be misleading and often do not paint the whole
picture. They certainly provide ready-made excuses for those who choose to live
a life of crime. When we offer excuses for criminals or their criminal
activities, we not only legitimize their actions but we also offer comfort,
provide safe havens and harbour the perpetrators of those illegal acts.
STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR CRIMINALS
We must stop making excuses to justify the behaviour of criminals. We must abhor
criminality whenever and wherever it occurs. We must not only speak out when our
sons are killed, when our daughters are raped or only when our property is
Crime is unacceptable, whether it is committed by the employed or by the
Most Saint Lucians are familiar with the Creole saying ‘si pa ni soutiwez, pa ni
voleur’ (meaning, “if there’s no encouragement, there won’t be theft”).
MOTIVATED BY GREED, NOT ALWAYS BY NEED…
The truth is, a large percentage of the crimes that occur in Saint Lucia is
motivated by greed. Hence, the reason why it is critical that we make a clear
distinction between crime borne out of genuine need and crime borne out of
A MATTER OF CHOICE…
Like everything in life, crime is a matter of choice. Those who choose to live a
life of crime do so by choice; and that choice is exercised by people of all
descriptions, of all classes and strata in our society.
Poor people steal and so do rich people; workers steal and so do unscrupulous
managers; bank clerks commit fraud and so do certified accountants; gunmen shoot
people, but they are hired by others in the society to do so; ordinary men
commit rape and incest -- and so do businessmen and others of means and
position. In other words, crime is neither about poverty, nor about whether one
has a job or not.
The increasing reports of white-collar crimes prove that point beyond the shadow
of any doubt. The perpetrators of these crimes are not unemployed, they are not
poor, they are not economically deprived nor do they lack genuine opportunities.
In fact, not only are they well paid, but they are also well-placed within the
corporate society. And although they have access to resources and opportunities,
they still choose to engage in crime.
So, why is it that in the attempt to inextricably link crime to unemployment,
some of us conveniently forget these facts? Is it because we feel detached from
the incidents of white-collar crime? Or, is it that we do not view these as
criminal acts because of who may be involved?
NOT ALL UNEMPLOYEDS CHOOSE CRIME
The vast majority of the unemployed among us do not choose to commit criminal
offences. But the criminals in our midst must accept personal responsibility for
their decisions. Many of those who choose to engage in crime do not want to take
up employment, even when it is available. Many of the unemployed, encouraged by
others within the society, consider the employment opportunities that become
available to be insufficient to meet their needs to earn fast money as easily
and quickly as possible.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE…
How many times have we seen unemployed persons begging for a dollar, yet, when
offered an opportunity to work for the money they beg for, they flatly refuse or
reject the offer? How many times have we encountered individuals within our
community who openly boast that they can make more money “cooling it and trading
on the block”, rather than being employed in a regular job?
Poor work ethics continue to be a major problem in our country. Those who want
to amass great material wealth want to do so immediately, but with minimal
effort; those whose flimsy work ethics cannot support their consumption patterns
want everything now -- not tomorrow or the day after, but right now.
We live in a society in which obtaining a proper education is being seen by some
as too long a process. This is the philosophy: Why get an education when you
cannot get a job? Others ask why they should spend all those years in school,
when they can instead drop-out, engage in the drug trade and obtain wealth far
beyond what they would normally acquire from a regular job? Properly analyzed,
this is a non-argument because jobs come and go, economies change, opportunities
rise and fall. Why condemn your life, forever?
Many become fooled by what is referred to in today’s pop culture as the “bling-bling.”
Consequently, many no longer find virtue in Sir Arthur Lewis’ famous statement
that “the cure for poverty is not money but education.”
WORK PAYS; CRIME DOESN’T!
Unfortunately, some criminals think that crime pays – until they are caught, or
until they are made to pay the price, whether behind bars, or with their life.
It is the personal responsibility of the offenders to make the choice. Those who
choose crime must always be reminded that crime simply does not pay; and that
ill-gotten gains don’t last. Someday, sometime, somewhere, the law will catch up
A SAD NOTE!
As has happened on some other occasions, I end on a sad note. Just as I was
about to record this Conversation, I received a telephone call that Janni
Williams, our Calypso Monarch, died in a fatal accident. All kinds of thoughts
raced through my mind. Janni was young, beautiful, creative and energetic. She
was so exceptional. She was a gem! Truly, she was a rare and extraordinary young
person. Never had I met a young person with such a complete vision for her
country and her beloved Caribbean. What a wonderful human being! I will mourn
her loss. I share the grief of her parents, family, friends and fans. I too,
will miss her!
Until next week, despite Janni’s loss, be of good cheer. And God Bless!