Take back Montego Bay!
IT SAYS and means a lot that outside of the Government getting and keeping its fiscal affairs in order, Michael Lee-Chin’s Economic Growth Council (EGC) identifies improving people’s safety as “the most consequential growth-inducing reform that Jamaica can undertake”.
We agree. Which is why this newspaper supports the council’s call for a fully funded, comprehensive approach to the problem – including the overhaul of the constabulary and justice system to make them more responsive, efficient, effective, and accountable – and why we back the signals by the Government of significant financial increases to those sectors in the coming fiscal year.
But Jamaica faces a crisis of security now! Nowhere is that more apparent and frightening and potentially more economically noxious than in the parish of St James and its capital, Montego Bay, a critical backbone of the island’s tourism industry. So far this week, perhaps a dozen people have been murdered in and around the city. Many others have been injured. St James accounts for a fifth of the approximately 900 murders in Jamaica since the start of 2016.
The situation shows no signs of improving. In fact, it has worsened as gangs and organised criminals fight for ascendancy in the lottery rackets that target mostly elderly Americans who have funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of the extortionists and swindlers. Caught in the crossfire, law-abiding citizens grow increasingly fearful, communities are atomised, and legitimate domestic businesses are undermined and in danger of being pushed to the margins. Left unchecked, this metastasising cancer will reach the tourism industry, sickening the sector that earns the most foreign currency and directly employs nearly 40,000 people.
It is urgent, therefore, that the security forces regain control of the streets of Montego Bay and the parish of St James. Obviously, the constabulary is overwhelmed and incapable of managing the job. Recently, Charles Sinclair, the former mayor of Montego Bay, proposed that the army be called out to patrol the streets of the city. The Gleaner concurs.
Tourism interests, having marketed Jamaica as a laid-back, idyllic, tropical resort, have, in the past, been wary of having the military patrol a tourist town. But circumstances have changed in Jamaica and elsewhere. In the face of Islamist terrorism, paramilitaries are common sights in the cities of Europe. Further, we suggest the declaration for St James of a short-term, state of emergency – but with robust civil monitoring – to allow the security forces greater room to manoeuvre against the criminals.
In the meantime, the Government must move briskly to develop a security initiative in the context suggested by the EGC.