A dis­ad­van­tage of small­ness

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Peter Espeut Peter Espeut is a so­ci­ol­o­gist and de­vel­op­ment sci­en­tist. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

BE­ING A small coun­try has its ad­van­tages, like not need­ing lay­ers of ad­min­is­tra­tive bu­reau­cracy (e.g., fed­eral, pro­vin­cial, county, mu­nic­i­pal) to ef­fec­tively gov­ern the whole ter­ri­tory.

On a rel­a­tively small is­land like Ja­maica, with a rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion, it should be pos­si­ble to cre­ate agen­cies/min­istries to ef­fi­ciently pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional and health ser­vices to the cit­i­zenry, to de­velop and main­tain the nec­es­sary road and san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, while keep­ing crime un­der control.

But be­ing a small coun­try has its dis­ad­van­tages. Every­body at the top knows every­body else, and if you re­search, you will find ei­ther fam­ily ties or church, school, club, lodge or po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions bind­ing them to­gether. When the time comes to hire staff or to award con­tracts, in a small coun­try it is hard to avoid con­flicts of in­ter­est and ac­cu­sa­tions of nepo­tism, par­tial­ity and favouritism, or, on the other hand, bias, prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

That is why, if you are in­ter­ested in jus­tice and fair play, in a small coun­try, it is cru­cially im­por­tant to put struc­tures in place to guar­an­tee trans­parency and a level playing field and checks and bal­ances to de­tect hir­ing and pro­cure­ment ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. Ev­ery pub­lic of­fi­cial and ev­ery gov­ern­ment agency must be ac­count­able to some­one or some over­sight agency, with as much in­de­pen­dence from con­nect­ed­ness as is pos­si­ble in a small coun­try.


When it comes to the de­tec­tion of crime and the pros­e­cu­tion of al­leged of­fend­ers, small coun­tries have a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem. There is al­ways go­ing to be a close con­nec­tion be­tween pol­i­tics (the ex­ec­u­tive branch of gov­ern­ment), the po­lice (the in­ves­tiga­tive arm of the jus­tice sys­tem), and the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP), which lays charges and leads pros­e­cu­to­rial ev­i­dence in court).

The ex­ec­u­tive arm of Gov­ern­ment (the po­lit­i­cal direc­torate) ap­points (through the gover­nor gen­eral) the Ser­vices Com­mis­sions which ap­point, reap­point and pro­mote a wide va­ri­ety of pub­lic of­fi­cers. This pre­tence at in­de­pen­dent ap­point­ments has lost its lus­tre and needs to be re­vis­ited.

In an ef­fort to dis­play ‘in­de­pen­dence’ and the im­pos­si­bil­ity of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, the DPP is ac­count­able to no one. At the same time, the Of­fice of the DPP has no in­ves­ti­ga­tors of its own, and is forced to rely on the po­lice to be able to ful­fil even the small­est part of its man­date. When po­lice of­fi­cers are ac­cused of crimes – es­pe­cially mur­der – who will in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions, lay charges, and pros­e­cute the cases? There is an in­ces­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship here that may lead to sus­pi­cions of a ‘dolly house’ at work.

When politi­cians are ac­cused of crimes, noth­ing ever seems to come of it! And we seem to have a hard time pros­e­cut­ing Ja­maican drug deal­ers, gun­run­ners and lot­tery scam­mers, al­though other ju­ris­dic­tions seem to be able to do so af­ter ex­tra­di­tion.

The de­ci­sion by Gov­ern­ment to cre­ate the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­ves­ti­ga­tions (INDECOM) to in­ves­ti­gate crimes al­legedly com­mit­ted by po­lice­men came af­ter the demon­stra­ble fail­ure of the po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate their own; but INDECOM has no pros­e­cu­to­rial pow­ers, which means that the dolly house al­le­ga­tions con­tinue.


Be­fore Par­lia­ment last Tues­day, INDE COM re­ported that 340 mem­bers of the pub­lic were killed in var­i­ous po­lice op­er­a­tions be­tween July 2013 and De­cem­ber 2015. This is a very high rate of po­lice killings – one of the high­est in the world! In larger coun­tries with lay­ers of ju­ris­dic­tion, re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute al­le­ga­tions of lo­cal po­lice crim­i­nal­ity can be passed to an­other level – pro­vin­cial or fed­eral. A small coun­try like Ja­maica does not have this ready-made and avail­able op­tion. Small is not al­ways beau­ti­ful.

Re­cent po­lice killings of un­re­sist­ing un­armed black men in var­i­ous parts of the USA have re­sulted in calls for in­de­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tors to be brought in, for his­tory has shown that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties de­fend their own. What op­tions are avail­able to us with our chronic world-class rate of po­lice killings?

And in the con­text where politi­cians are ac­cused of fraud and ar­rang­ing kick­backs and giv­ing out guns and hir­ing hit men to com­mit mur­der – and the list could go on – what hope could there ever be of thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion and dili­gent pros­e­cu­tion in small dolly house Ja­maica?

We tried sec­ond­ing high-level Scot­land Yard de­tec­tives to our po­lice force, and it seems to have yielded some suc­cess. Now the FBI and the ATF and the DEA will set up of­fices in Ja­maica. We can look for­ward to, I think, more ar­rests and more ex­tra­di­tions.

But can we strengthen INDE COM? And if we can’t cre­ate our own Ja­maican FBI (only more dolly house) can we out­source in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ev­i­dence­gath­er­ing of our more se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion cases?

We may be a small coun­try, suf­fer­ing from the dis­ad­van­tages of small­ness; but we have big friends who may be able to help us where we can’t help our­selves.

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