It has taken the PNM administration a long time to reach even this partial admission. Indeed, at the start of the year, even as he acknowledged that the Government’s crime-fighting initiatives had failed, Mr Joseph denied the link between murder and URP — and mere days later denied that he had even said that the Government had failed. And it was only a few weeks ago that, after High Court judge Anthony Carmona spoke publicly about the URP link to crime, Mr Joseph declared stoutly that he had “no evidence of that”. Now, at a press briefing last Tuesday, he says that such a link is “very possible.”
We do not know what has caused this about-face.
Perhaps the fact that the murder total is approaching 100 killings even before the new administration has reached 100 days in office has awakened the Government. We hope, that the Government will face up squarely to the fact that the gang murders now plaguing the country started only after “community leaders” were put in charge of the URP programme and increased when the Government began pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into it — a fact that this newspaper, and many concerned citizens, have been pointing out for the past five years.
But we have to emphasise that acknowledging the problem is not enough. After all, three years ago, then-Local Government Minister Rennie Dumas promised to clean up the URP. Clearly that didn’t happen, for if it had, many persons would have been charged for fraudulent practices. Works Minister Colm Imbert, who is now in charge of the URP, has a responsibility to either back up the National Security Minister or reject his assertion that the murder-URP link is “very possible.”
If Mr Imbert chooses the latter option, he can start by explaining the official figures of the URP programme, which has a Budget allocation of $300 million employing over 30,000 persons — numbers which, if accurate, would mean that every URP employee is working for much less than the minimum wage.
However, what citizens most need to hear is what will be done in respect to the URP. Will measures be put in place to ensure that corrupt practices are stamped out or at least minimised? If so, what will these be and how will they work? Will the Government take the bold step of shutting down the URP entirely, given that in our zero unemployment position, now is the most opportune time to do so? Or will the URP be replaced by an alternative programme which will better help the disadvantaged persons who need State assistance to make ends meet?
In our view, the Government has a plethora of options. But one option it cannot exercise is to continue pretending that the daily murders are not linked to its make-work programmes.