Government of Saint Lucia

Go to Homepage


[Site Map]

[Contact Us]

Search this Site

Poverty, Unemployment and Crime! - October 25, 2004

horizontal rule

Governor General
Prime Minister
The Cabinet
The Senate
House of Assembly
Overseas Missions
The Constitution
The Staff Orders

National Television Network
Watch NTN Live

Saint Lucia Gazette
Press Releases
About Saint Lucia
Frequently Asked Questions
Web Links
Government Directory
Browse by Agency
Site Help

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 crime.


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 rate.

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.


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.


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 violated.
Crime is unacceptable, whether it is committed by the employed or by the unemployed.

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”).


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 greed.


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?


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.


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.”


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 with them.


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!


horizontal rule

Home ] Up ] Office of the Prime Minister Site Map ] [Site Help]

© 2012 Government Information Service. All rights reserved.

Read our privacy guidelines.