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December 6 is E-Day updated 6 days, 4 hours ago
December 6 is E-Day updated 6 days, 4 hours ago

We, at the SUN newspaper, have written, we have asked, we have begged for information from officials of the Government of Dominica about the level of crime in the country for 2015 and earlier years.

We received no answer; or more correctly, we received negative responses. We are not giving it to you, one person told us rather directly; it is not a public document, the statisticians at the Ministry of Finance told us; Crime Stoppers and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security referred us to the Commissioner of Police and the Chief himself told us earlier that he was not releasing the data.

Let's expand somewhat on our four-month ordeal in our search for that elusive data on crime in the Commonwealth of Dominica so that you can understand what the press is up against. Over a period of three months our freelance employee, Carlisle Jno Baptiste, undertook about a dozen visits to Police Headquarters in Roseau seeking a report on the aggregation of crime in the various districts that the police in the past provided to the press on a regular basis. Firstly, he was told that the report was not available because it was then incomplete; finally, he was advised that only Police Commissioner Daniel Carbon could authorise the dissemination of the data.

Then another SUN reporter decided to follow-up, maybe she would be more successful than Mr. Jno Baptiste. On the advice of a senior police officer, the reporter wrote a letter, dated June 13, 2016, to Commissioner of Police Carbon requesting a copy of the crime statistics report for 2015.

After she delivered that letter, she met and spoke to Mr Carbon who informed her that he would not be releasing the crime statistics for 2015 because that information was "too sensitive" for public consumption.

In an opinion piece that the reporter subsequently wrote to the newspaper she asked: "Why should this information be deemed too sensitive for the public's knowledge? Why would the Commissioner hold on to this information for dear life? Is it because there is an increase in criminal activity in the country and the Police Force would appear to be incompetent? Is it that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is lagging behind and crime is remaining unsolved?"

The Sun believes that information on the level of crime should be public knowledge. Otherwise how are citizens to protect themselves if they are unaware that the country's level of crime is increasing? (Or is crime decreasing?). We also wonder whether the authorities have decided to keep crime statistics secret so that they can paint a false picture to investors that Dominica is the safest place on earth. Probably they are right, Dominica could be the safest place in the world; but we want to judge for ourselves. Let's have the figures, Mr. Commissioner.

In addition, Mr. Carbon, Sir, how can you justify your appeal to the public to cooperate with the police in community policing schemes, to help the police reduce crime, to make our communities safe and then you treat all Dominicans like thoughtless, illiterate buffoons or irresponsible delinquents who can't be entrusted with basic crime information? We need the information, Sir, so that we can know where we are and what we need to do to keep our families safe.

Undoubtedly, that situation that we have just outlined shows that journalists and members of the public are experiencing much frustration at obtaining even the most benign pieces of information from the Dominica civil service. If you don't believe us try getting information on the production of bananas in Dominica or on the current number of reported cases of Zika in Dominica. Ask Dr. David Johnson, the Chief Medical Officer, how many times one of our reporters called him last week; ask the same question of Mr. Lucien Blackmore, the officer responsible for post-Erika resettlement, or Helen Royer, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health when we wanted to know about the status of vagrants in Roseau.

And no matter what the Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says about his administration being the most transparent in the post-independence history of Dominica, we would like to see the manifestation of that dream (that's what Mr. Skerrit's statement is, really) by the enactment of a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to help us extract information from the government.

The point is Dominica desperately needs that FoI Act that other countries have realised is absolutely necessary in a mature democracy. Britain and Trinidad and Tobago are two of the approximately 100 countries that have enacted FoI legislation, giving the media and the public on a whole a powerful means to extract information from public bodies and hold them accountable. So, Mr Carbon, the information on crime may be embarrassing but taxpayers have a right to know.

UNESCO reminds us of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

It is evident, UNESCO argues, that the "right to impart information is of little purpose in the absence of the right to seek and receive; and also that the scope of the latter activity (sending or receiving) is directly conditioned by the extent of what is imparted.

In other words, the right to freedom of expression involves two sides of the same coin: producing messages, and consuming them – neither of which makes sense without the other.

As we said in an earlier editorial, the current state of affairs - the painful absence of honest, open and consistent information from a haughty and arrogant administration suggests a deliberate Goebbels-like strategy of ignorance: keep them ignorant and you control them; keep them ignorant and you can manipulate them with propaganda; they cannot disprove it when we tell them things are good; remember a lack of information may keep us in power forever.

But wait. We must not blame the politicians or the government's administrators; we have to blame the people because, according to French politician and philosopher, Joseph Marie de Maistre: "Every country gets the government it deserves".