Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Mark Ricketts | National consensus and talking crime to death

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

There have been frequent calls in the media and from various private-sector groups for a national consensus on fighting crime. The rationale is that homicides have now ballooned to trigger ringing alarm bells for every responsible person and organisation, especially the governing JLP administration and the Opposition PNP.

With this recognition, it is argued, the parties should come together to articulate a common position on dealing with crime so that the entire country will see the two parties offering a joint solution.

To do otherwise, where the Opposition keeps carping at whatever the JLP administration is doing, is to send a signal of division to the society and to suggest that the Opposition is more interested in using the deteriorating crime situation to score political points.

As Howard Mitchell, president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), suggested, "If in this environment where murders are at a considerable rate the Government is having problems managing, isn't the Opposition not going to offer to help? If not, are they going to allow them to fail? Then they'll only do damage to themselves, and the country, as we will all fail."

In my mind, I thought, "WOW!" When did Jamaica become a coalition government, wherein the Opposition is supposed to submerge whatever cogent challenges it has if it believes the Government's policy prescription for solving crime is way off base? Aren't checks and balances especially important in a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy where there is an inherent bias for Cabinet government? Surely, if missteps are being made in governance, it is the duty of the Opposition to keep the administration's feet to the fire.

Mitchell, Superintendent Catherine Lord, head of the Police Officers' Association, and I were recently on Power 106 as guests of morning host Althea McKenzie.

It was Mitchell's contention that with the meteoric rate of murders, political parties are dividing rather than uniting.

"It is frustrating to watch the competition between those who govern and those who want to govern.

 

Recipe for failure

 

If we don't come together and stop wasting energy in attacking each other, we are going to fail. Jamaicans are dying. We need to come up with an agreement not to score political points. Instead we need to join in a national approach to combating crime and to reach the society in a coherent and cohesive manner. If out of this common consensus comes a good idea, then Government can take it and run with it."

National consensus! Can you imagine if this was Britain and Brits are being killed at an appalling rate, tantamount to that of a civil war, and murders are increasing by double digit each year, and, when the annual Budget is announced, there is a decrease in the allocation to what would be equivalent to the Ministry of National Security in Jamaica?

No sitting prime minister in Britain would ever make that mistake, knowing that the leader of the Opposition would maintain a sustained verbal assault. He or she would never live it down.

The media would be attacking the insensitivity of Government to the carnage taking place in the country. In fact, as reports are made daily of people cringing in fear and dying at an alarming rate, the media would be badgering the Government with aggressive headlines.

But here in Jamaica, there is a drumbeat for national consensus. The day after the PSOJ president was on Power 106, Metry Seaga of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association was on the airwaves imploring both parties to come together. He was followed up the next day by Larry Watson, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, who also sounded the alarm.

To suggest a coalition government, where so much store is placed on the leader of the Opposition attending meetings at Vale Royal together with the JLP administration, is to further debase Parliament with its verbal thrust and parry.

National consensus is now a pacifier, a comfort blanket for the nation's crime woes.

The issues below, which needed urgent attention, have been around for more than a year, and some of us have been trying to alert the decision makers to move quickly to avoid the crime spike:

1). No constable with seven years' experience should be earning a basic monthly pay of $62,480, to which the Government's proposed three per cent or four per cent will apply. The same thing goes for a corporal, 14 years on the force, but six years as a corporal, earning a basic pay of $76,040.

2). The police are short 832 cars, and that should be addressed immediately.

3). There is a police-to-population ratio for results-oriented policing as New York City has shown, and as evident with ZOSO. Jamaica is woefully short of the desired ratio to ensure effective policing.

4). The police have one forensic lab serving all of Jamaica, yet investigation is critical for efficient police work.

5). Many police on the front line talk openly that they are hindered by INDECOM and that they are not taking the chances they once did, yet INDECOM is seen by many stakeholders and political leaders as ensuring a softer side of policing.

6). JCF is not up to speed with current tools and technologies and is disadvantaged by the absence of cross-referencing of public data. All this leads to lower arrest and conviction ratios.

To get the political leaders and stakeholders today to show common cause would just be a photo op. What is needed immediately is massive funding, and no amount of national consensus will provide this.

As an aside, at a Bank of Jamaica carol service at the Mona Chapel at the UWI, I was part of a consenting audience that stood and applauded at length Althea McKenzie's superb rendition of O Holy Night, with her University Singers as a backdrop and the brilliant Franklin Halliburton conducting. Excellence knows no boundaries.

 

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.