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Lets Tackle the Culture of Vandalism - October 10, 2005

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Lets Tackle the Culture of Vandalism

Greetings again, fellow Saint Lucians.
I have another pre-occupation. This time it is the appearance of our country, our highways, our communities, our public buildings and amenities. I have a simple philosophy on this issue. If a country looks good, then its citizens will feel good about the country. It is precisely for that reason that the Government continues to invest heavily in the collection and disposal of waste, in encouraging the National Conservation Authority (NCA) to plant flowers and trees in communities and in employing caretakers to cut the grass along the verges of our major highways.


But we have a problem. It is a problem that affects our society and the image of our country. It is a problem that we continue to ignore. That problem is vandalism.

Of course vandalism takes many forms. It can cover many sins. But when I speak of vandalism, I am referring to the blatant, deliberate and willful destruction and defacing of public property.

The question real is this: Why do individuals destroy or deface public property which they share in common with the society and from which they all benefit directly or indirectly? Why?


As usual, many reasons are offered for this phenomenon. Some cite ignorance. Others blame it on poverty and unemployment. For others it is alienation, a statement by many of our young people that they are far removed from society and could not care less. Still others say it is nothing more than political protest, meaning it is one way of “getting at the Government.” In other words, if the vandals attack, deface or destroy public property, the Government is being attacked. One thing is clear. Some believe that they can destroy Government property with impunity. How often have you witnessed individuals destroying public property and when challenged they simply respond “cest bagai govetment, ki malaye moin?”


Consider for a moment some examples of vandalism.
On numerous occasions in the past, Cable and Wireless has provided telephones for public use. However, within hours of installing these new telephones they were vandalized. Obviously, the vandals believed that they had better uses for the telephone receivers than the use for which they were originally intended. Not once did they stop to think that the telephone which they vandalized could be used to save the life of an individual who suddenly becomes ill but does not have access to a private telephone. Nor have they considered that the very telephone which they vandalized could have been used to protect property including their own.

Similarly, in an attempt to reduce littering and to ensure that our communities remain clean, the Solid Waste Management Authority has furnished communities island wide with garbage bins only to have them stolen, sometimes by individuals in the same communities. The result is that indiscriminate littering continues. It does not matter that indiscriminate littering encourages the growth of the rodent population, and the clogging of drains and flooding.

I am certain that many of you have had the experience of visiting your public library to do research on some important subject only to find out that someone has torn important sections of the recommended text or removed it from the library altogether. Can you remember how deprived you felt? Those who engage in such acts are just not bothered by the fact that they are robbing the community, society and nation of its stock of resources.

Remember Nelson Mandela’s visit to Saint Lucia? Remember that before the visit the Government commissioned the planting of a number of flower plants and trees in various parts of the city of Castries only to have them stolen by individuals who felt that they would do a better job beautifying their homes and yards, rather than public spaces.

Indeed, I remember well that after the 1997 Elections the Government proceeded to repair toilet facilities island-wide. Within days of being repaired, the shower heads disappeared, the toilet seats and tanks were either damaged or stolen. In some cases, graffiti was sprayed or marked on the buildings. Within months, residents in these communities began clamouring for another cycle of repairs to these facilities. More money down the drain!

I know of another more disgusting example of abuse. In one community which shall remain nameless, the Government constructed a new sporting facility. Within weeks, the toilet bowls and tanks disappeared and the taps removed. To add insult to injury, unknown persons defecated in the building and in some instances spread their faecal deposits on the walls, presumably to send a message. Government was compelled to employ security guards at the facility.


Those who engage in vandalism, especially the spraying of graffiti on public buildings would like us to believe that graffiti is art. Graffiti is however, the furthest thing from art. Graffiti is often the first sign that gangs are taking over a neighbourhood. Gangs use graffiti as their street “telegraph” sending messages about turf and advertising their exploits. Graffiti identifies territorial boundaries, lists members and communicates with rival gangs. The graffiti that we see is unsightly and demeaning. It usually takes the form of obscenity and profanity and therefore ought not be encouraged or tolerated.


Vandalism is really a theft of communal resources. Acts of vandalism also increases the fear of crime among citizens. More often than not, it results in the loss of services, and a general lowering of the quality of life in our communities. When schools are damaged or vandalised, children suffer. When public phones are out of order, those who do not own phones - usually the underprivileged members of the community - are further disadvantaged, particularly in emergencies. When businesses are vandalized, business owners pass on the cost to consumers through higher prices.

We spend too much money and effort in providing social amenities only to have them nullified by acts of vandalism. Vandalism is a gross waste of resources. Instead of using our scare resources to address other issues, provide new facilities and expand the range of services available to the society, each act of vandalism only serves to place greater strain on our limited resources and to retard the entire developmental process.


It is often felt that those who engage in acts of vandalism do so because they lack a sense of ownership and therefore absolve themselves from any responsibility for the protection of public property. However, they cannot be more wrong. Public goods belong to every member of the community, society or nation. None is excluded from its use. As such we have a vested interest in preserving and protecting our common property.

Whatever the motivation for indulging in acts of vandalism, it imposes a tremendous burden on the taxpayers of this country. Taxpayers are the ones who have to come up with the additional money to repair the damage. It is grossly unfair to ask the taxpayers of this country to pay for acts of vandalism committed mostly by those who contribute least to the public finances.

Vandalism also costs us in a much more powerful, but less tangible way. It costs us our pride. Vandalism is symbolic of a lack of pride in those who indulge in such acts. Evidently, vandals have no pride, no sense of ownership. The lack of pride manifests itself in their desire to destroy rather than to help build. Sadly though, acts of vandalism undermine community spirit and morale. A dilapidated society is not usually associated with positive vibes. No society can be proud of carved-up woodwork, boarded-up windows or a school defaced with grafitti. Vandalism also violates our dignity. Clearly, a society that is devoid of pride cannot hold itself up before others. A community that is in a state of disrepair, that is graffiti ridden will not be looked upon favourably by other neighbourhoods. Vandalism devalues our image as a progressive, conscientious and forward thinking people.


For those who are unaware, damage to public or private property is an offence. Indeed, persons who cause damage to fences, posts, cultivated plants or gardens, public buildings, public ways, statues, monuments, works of art, electrical poles and telecommunication fittings commit offences which render them liable to fines. Those who are interested can review sections 453 and 456 to 465 of the Criminal Code of Saint Lucia. More serious is the offence of criminal damage to property. This offence can attract imprisonment for fifteen years.


I simply want to tell you that we must no longer tolerate the arbitrary and wanton destruction of public property. We must prove ourselves to be mature and responsible citizens.

The task of preventing or reducing acts of vandalism does not fall to the Government alone. Every Saint Lucian has a part to play in ensuring that vandalism is reduced if not totally eliminated. You should challenge the vandals when you see them defacing or damaging public property. Schools and parents must sensitise their children to the cost of vandalism and must instill in them a sense of respect for communal property.

Every effort must be made to involve young persons in vandalism prevention campaigns. This can be done through the organization of graffiti clean up projects in various neightbourhoods, general clean up campaigns, tree and flower planting exercises. Young persons can further be encourged to work with schools or arts troups to paint murals on areas that are vulnerable to graffiti. More importantly, Town and Village Councils island wide should hold meetings to discuss acts of vandalism, its costs and solutions.

So, it is not simply enough for us to complain about acts of vandalism. We must be proactive. We cannot absolve ourselves of our responsibility in preventing such acts. We must all play our part to discourage and safeguard communal property.

So do all in your power to promote the building of our society and not its destruction. I say, let us put a stop to vandalism.

Until next week, be of good cheer and may God continue to bless our nation, our people and each and every one of you.



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