Crime will undermine even the most outstanding economic performance

Crime has risen so sharply in this region since 2004 that murder rates are now the HIGHEST in the world, according to a recent IDB report, with 6.8% (and rising) of our population affected, versus a worldwide average of 4.5%.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) remains THE SINGLE MOST VIOLENT REGION IN THE WHOLE WORLD

The LAC region had a homicide rate of 24 per 100,000 population in 2015 — FOUR times the global average. Roughly 40% of the Caribbean’s population identifies crime and security-related issues as THE biggest problem facing our countries, even bigger than poverty or inequality.

Homicide rates peaked in Jamaica at 61.5 in 2009, and in Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) at 41.6 in 2008, and had declined thereafter. However, homicides have begun trending upwards again in these two countries. According to the UNODC homicide database’s 2015 data, T&T had the 11th highest homicide rate in the world, at 26 persons per 100,000 population, and it has risen since then. Homicide rates in The Bahamas began to surpass those in T&T in 2011 and are now nearing those of Jamaica.

On the other hand, homicide rates in Barbados and Suriname have stayed fairly constant at much lower levels over time. Guyana has medium-high homicide rates — far below those of Jamaica, but still more than three times the global average. The highest percentage of homicides involving firearms is found in The Bahamas at 82.4%, followed by Jamaica at 73.4% and T&T at 72.6%.

Crime costs LAC an average 3% of GDP per annum. Crime therefore underpins weak socio-economic performance, as we alter our lifestyles and behaviour to avoid crime; households and firms spend to protect themselves from crime, firms reduce their investment and incur productivity losses, and governments shift the allocation of resources.

Government spending on security in LAC matches that of the UK and the USA as a percentage of GDP, but at 5% of overall fiscal expenditure, such spending in LAC is ALMOST TWICE the average of developed countries. Public expenditure on crime per capita is highest in T&T at USD460.60 (PPP) per annum — more than DOUBLE the regional average of USD194.50. The 2012 UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report found that even in T&T where government expenditure on crime prevention was THE HIGHEST, for every dollar spent on security, only 15 cents was spent on prevention.

T&T had the highest crime-related costs in LAC at USD1,189.00 per capita per annum, and the 3rd highest as a proportion of GDP at 3.52%, based on 2014 data.

The percentage of businesses that spent money on security is highest in T&T, at 85% in 2013/14, according to the IDB study. That study showed T&T’s detection rate as the lowest in the region, at 13%. Notably in T&T, detection rates for crimes are extremely low and have been declining since 2000. In the case of murder, for example, detection rates averaged 64.8% between 1990 and 1999 and then plummeted to 13% by 2013.

As recent events in Jamaica have demonstrated, in the Caribbean, meaningful macroeconomic progress is necessary but insufficient in securing overall social stability and security. Indeed, without the latter, the former will not last.

Economist and leading advisor on the Caribbean