Mr Hol­ness’ job on crime

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY -

POLITI­CIANS OFTEN make stupid state­ments, which they come to re­gret, dur­ing elec­tion cam­paigns. Which we ex­pect is the case with Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness, who, ahead of last Fe­bru­ary’s vote, sug­gested that a vic­tory for the in­cum­bent Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP) ad­min­is­tra­tion would be a per­pet­u­a­tion of Ja­maica’s cri­sis of crim­i­nal vi­o­lence.

The im­pli­ca­tion was that elect­ing Mr Hol­ness’ Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP) would, al­most au­to­mat­i­cally, mean a sharp de­cline in crime and a surge in cit­i­zen safety and se­cu­rity. Ja­maicans, it was sug­gested, would be able to re­turn to the good old days when they didn’t have to worry about lock­ing doors and could sleep with their win­dows open.

On Monday, min­is­ters spent a good por­tion of a weekly meet­ing of the Cab­i­net dis­cussing Ja­maica’s crime prob­lem. The po­lice com­mis­sioner, Carl Wil­liams, made a pre­sen­ta­tion on the mat­ter, the de­tails of which have not been made pub­lic. But the po­lice chief wasn’t called to a Cab­i­net meet­ing be­cause crime is down.

Rather, crime, at least the one that Ja­maicans worry deeply about, mur­der, is on the in­crease. At the cur­rent rate, homi­cides in 2016 will in­crease by per­haps a quar­ter, push­ing the fig­ure to more than 1,500 killings. It will be the third year of in­crease, fol­low­ing four of de­cline by a cu­mu­la­tive one-third. The coun­try’s mur­der rate, at this tra­jec­tory, will be around 56 per 100,000, or more than 20 per 100,000 higher than where we were at the peak of the down­ward spi­ral four years ago.

The raw data are cause for con­cern. The na­ture of the re­cent killings, how­ever, is fright­en­ing the so­ci­ety, like the brazen­ness of re­cent shoot­ings in Mon­tego Bay and else­where in St James. In­deed, the Cab­i­net’s fo­cus on crime on Monday would have been im­pacted on, if not in­spired by, that day’s events in Span­ish Town, St Cather­ine, where five per­sons, in­clud­ing three chil­dren, were shot dead and their homes torched. In­hu­manly, two of the chil­dren were ap­par­ently tied up and shot. A sur­vivor, who is now paral­ysed, had up to 10 bul­lets pumped into her body.

SUB­STAN­TIAL RE­SOURCES

We have noted th­ese facts not as a po­lit­i­cal re­buke to Mr Hol­ness or his party, but to make the point that fight­ing crim­i­nal­ity and en­hanc­ing cit­i­zen safety and se­cu­rity has to be a non-par­ti­san, multi-stake­holder ef­fort, which will re­quire the Govern­ment’s al­lo­ca­tion of sub­stan­tial re­sources, as was pointed out by Mr Hol­ness’ Eco­nomic Growth Coun­cil (ECG). For, as the group led by en­tre­pre­neur Michael Lee-Chin ob­served, with macro-eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, “im­prov­ing cit­i­zen se­cu­rity ... is the most im­por­tant growth-in­duc­ing re­form that Ja­maica can un­der­take”. It is es­ti­mated that Ja­maica’s high lev­els of crime an­nu­ally cut up to six per cent of the value of the coun­try’s out­put.

Bud­getary and other re­source al­lo­ca­tion, how­ever, is a mat­ter of sat­is­fy­ing com­pet­ing in­ter­ests, made more dif­fi­cult for the Ja­maican Govern­ment given its dif­fi­cult fis­cal cir­cum­stances. In the event, sub­stan­tially en­hanced al­lo­ca­tions to cit­i­zens’ safety and se­cu­rity projects, in­clud­ing to the po­lice and jus­tice re­form, will re­quire po­lit­i­cal consensus, if there is to be broad so­cial buy-in. For in their con­certed po­lit­i­cal grip­ing over the re­al­lo­ca­tion of cap­i­tal from one sec­tor to an­other, the ini­tia­tive could be­come mori­bund, if not fiz­zle.

Therein lies our urg­ing to place crime above the par­ti­san fray, to which politi­cians often say they are com­mit­ted, but from which they too fre­quently re­treat. Mr Hol­ness has to lead this consensus-build­ing ef­fort.

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