Stealing public goods is exactly the same as treason
Being a citizen of a functional democracy is a great privilege given the absence of this vital development ingredient in so many other states, but there are times when I am prepared to forfeit the benefits of a democracy just to reinstate the death penalty. In particular, I would not lose sleep when criminals who steal from the public good, are executed.
Earlier this week, Telecom Namibia announced yet another cable theft laying lame, communications wise, large areas in Katutura and Brakwater. This was the third incident of cable theft in just eight days.
Stealing copper wire and fibre optic from the communications parastatal, forces us to face several unpleasant facts. First, the thieves are well informed.
They know which manholes contain the most lucrative types of cables for them to turn into contraband. Secondly, they must be familiar with movement in those areas since the thefts usually go undetected until the next day. This means they either live in those suburbs or they are very familiar with conditions there.
Furthermore, there must be technical assistance in the form of heavy duty equipment and people who know how to operate these. You do not just lift the manhole lid and rip up the cables. The thieves are well-equipped and they have a dependable form of transport, arriving quickly, doing their damage, and departing just as swiftly with a couple of hundred kilograms of cable. Again, you do not just put the cable in a bag and carry it over your shoulder.
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that there must be a buyer. In my eyes, the buyer is more guilty than the thieves since he is the one creating the demand. I view these crimes in the same light as I view treason. It is a crime against the state and against the people of Namibia. And treason used to be a capital crime, meaning you swung by your neck when you committed it.
Perhaps my strong opinions on cable theft are not for the faint-hearted but I suggest that the Namibian Police adopt a shoot on sight policy when it comes to cable theft. I want to compare the seriousness of this crime to rhino and elephant poaching, where a shoot on sight policy is the only permanent deterrent.
Criminals who steal Telecom’s cables, steal from the public. As a matter of fact, they steal from their own citizens, and they do it on a much larger scale than an opportunistic thief pickpocketing a tourist’s wallet. When you rob other citizens of their access to communication, the rippling effect goes out much further than just stealing a piece of wire. You are stealing public goods and you are infringing the right of others to have access to these public goods.
If there is such an outcry over rhinos and elephants, there ought to be a thousand times loader protest over cable theft. I do not want to see the criminals caught and then escaping justice through loopholes in the criminal justice system. I want to see them shot, either on site while stealing, or transporting their loot, or when selling this to a scrap metal dealer. And then for good measure, shoot the buyer too. Cable thieves can not plead poverty. For the reasons stated above, they must have loads of money to afford vehicles and specialised equipment. They are not stealing out of desperation or to feed a family, or to send the kids to school. They are stealing out of greed. They are outright criminals of the lowest kind.
I believe desperate circumstances require pro-active and forceful action. For any seasoned investigator, it would not be difficult to obtain the information that would identify the criminals. But it should not stop there. If the police does not get the opportunity to relieve us of the criminals while apprehending them, then the further reception must be so unpleasant, not a single criminal must ever again even consider stealing cable from Telecom.
If we find a successful way of avoiding arrest (of a live body) but can implement a strategy that makes cable theft a very dangerous occupation, then we can apply these same methods to poaching.
In the bush it is easier to find justification for shooting a poacher on the spot, since these criminals are always armed.
With cable thieves it may be a bit more complicated, especially from a legal point of view, but I am sure there are many resourceful policemen and detectives who will figure out a way around having to be nice to criminals. I can guarantee you, the moment the first thief was shot in action, and that occurrence widely advertised, cable theft will stop overnight.