Mon­tague proves case for Vale Royal Talks

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

WE TAKE Robert Mon­tague, the na­tional se­cu­rity min­is­ter, at his word that he is se­ri­ous about hav­ing in­de­pen­dent per­for­mance over­sight of his min­istry and the agen­cies that fall un­der it. The com­mit­tee he has named to do the job is of se­ri­ous peo­ple, led by Peter Moses, a tal­ented and com­pe­tent man, who has done this kind of thing be­fore.

And it is pre­cisely be­cause of the se­ri­ous­ness of this en­ter­prise that we are sur­prised – or per­haps ought not to be – in the way that Mr Mon­tague seems to go­ing about invit­ing the buy-in, and par­tic­i­pa­tion, of the po­lit­i­cal Op­po­si­tion in the pro­ject. They, of course, should be there.

For as Mr Moses, the for­mer coun­try head of Citibank, ob­served at the launch of Se­curipoc (Se­cu­rity Pro­gramme Over­sight Com­mit­tee) last Thurs­day, na­tional se­cu­rity isn’t – or shouldn’t be – a par­ti­san is­sue. It af­fects ev­ery­one.

“It is es­ti­mated that crime is cost­ing us about five per cent of GDP,” Mr Moses said. “When you work that out in real num­bers, you are look­ing at over J$70 bil­lion per year. With that money, we could build at least 100 schools, [or] an ad­di­tional five or six hos­pi­tals.” Mr Moses might have noted in that cost, the nearly 1,200 peo­ple mur­dered in Ja­maica, giv­ing the coun­try one of the globe’s high­est homi­cide rates of more than 44 per 100,000.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Mon­tague, Se­curipoc – seem­ingly mod­elled off the com­mit­tee that mon­i­tors Ja­maica’s agree­ment with the IMF – is, “by pol­icy”, a 15-mem­ber group. The min­is­ter wants to add a 16th.

He said at the launch: “I want to make a pub­lic call to in­vite Peter Bunting (the shadow se­cu­rity min­is­ter) to sit on this com­mit­tee and to have him demon­strate to the rest of the coun­try and the Caribbean that we are all se­ri­ous about treat­ing with crime and vi­o­lence in this coun­try.”

GIM­MICK IN­VI­TA­TION

We be­lieve that the prob­lem is with con­struc­tion, rather than what the min­is­ter in­tended to im­ply about Mr Bunting if he doesn’t ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion. Our larger con­cern – if there was no prior for­mal in­vi­ta­tion to the Op­po­si­tion – and there was no in­di­ca­tion of it – is that the of­fer was be­ing made in pub­lic. If there was no pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion on the is­sue, the door was opened for the Op­po­si­tion to cast the in­vi­ta­tion as a gim­mick.

This episode brings us back to our call for Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness to re­vive the Vale Royal Talks be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and the Op­po­si­tion on is­sues that should be above and be­yond a po­lit­i­cally par­ti­san tug of war.

The bat­tle against crime is the fore­most of th­ese is­sues. In­deed, as the Gov­ern­ment’s task force on eco­nomic growth ob­served, and Mr Moses re­it­er­ated, crime is the great­est im­ped­i­ment to ex­pand­ing na­tional out­put, which is im­por­tant to cre­at­ing jobs and gen­er­at­ing sur­pluses and there­from the taxes that the State can in­vest in the na­tional so­cial and phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture. This news­pa­per would have ap­pre­ci­ated that Mr Moses’ com­mit­tee, as a pre­cur­sor to a for­mally leg­is­lated ar­range­ment, hav­ing the im­pri­matur of the Op­po­si­tion, forged in a fo­rum like the Vale Royal Talks, with the pri­vate sec­tor also at the ta­ble.

As we pre­vi­ously sug­gested, a mech­a­nism for a wider group, be­yond the prime min­is­ter and the se­cu­rity chiefs, to de­cide on ar­eas to be in­ter­vened un­der the Gov­ern­ment’s lat­est anti-crime ini­tia­tive, the zones of spe­cial oper­a­tions, is ripe for th­ese ses­sions.

Fur­ther, the Gov­ern­ment promised the IMF, as part of pro­posed struc­tural re­forms un­der its standby agree­ment, to ta­ble by the end of Oc­to­ber a new Po­lice Ser­vice Act to sup­port the moderni­sa­tion of the ex­ist­ing con­stab­u­lary. The ex­ist­ing po­lice force is uni­ver­sally per­ceived to be cor­rupt and poorly led. We re­peat: The Vale Royal Talks, in­clu­sive of the pri­vate sec­tor, would be a use­ful fo­rum to de­bate whether it wouldn’t make sense to dis­solve the cur­rent force and cre­ate a com­pletely new one.

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