Jaevion Nelson: Budgetary allocation and the justice system
Successive governments have failed miserably to budget effectively to facilitate increased access to and secure justice, especially for the most marginalised and vulnerable in our society. What will it take for us to realise that the impunity perpetrators of crime and violence enjoy, which, in part, is a result of the present and continued low funding for justice, only breeds more killing?
One would think that by now, with over 1,500 homicides per year and scores of cases in backlog contributing to the arguably high levels of impunity, our parliamentarians would have recognised that the justice system needs to be well resourced for it to be effective and efficient.
We need to be serious about justice if we are indeed working towards making a 'safe, cohesive and just society' (Vision 2030).
The 2016-2017 budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Justice is $5.9 billion, which represents a three per cent decrease in the allocation when compared to the 2015-2016 financial year. This is frighteningly low! I remember making a recommendation to an official from the ministry for a project recently, and the individual quickly reminded me that there is very little left to do anything after all the staff are paid.
The justice ministry is one of the least- resourced ministries, despite the critical functions it is expected to perform and the symbiotic relationship it has with the Ministry of National Security to fight crime and violence. Between 2010 and 2017, the Ministry of Justice would have received an average of about $4.86 billion per year or a total of $34 billion for the period. The largest allocation in the last seven years was in 2015-2016 with $6.1 billion.
A cursory reading of the 2012 Caribbean Citizen Security and Justice Report and the 2012-2013 Jamaica National Crime & Victimisation Survey points very clearly to some of the challenges that we are facing.
The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC), in a publication entitled A Civil Society Perspective on the Jamaican Budget Process (2013), argues that there is a 'dominant focus on national security over justice in policy emphasis creates a [...] bias which favours law enforcement, including policing, maintaining law and order, fighting "urban terrorism" and gang warfare.'
One can safely assume that this must be the reason why the budget for the Ministry of National Security enjoys an increase every financial year. Its budgetary allocation for this year is $55.7 billion, up from $54.3 billion in 2015-2016 - representing a three per cent increase. In 2010/2011 it received $37.1 billion, $44.4 in 2011-2012, $47 in 2012-2013 and $50 billion in 2014-2015. In 2012-2013, about half of the national Budget was allocated for debt servicing. Education, national security and justice accounted for 14%, 8% and 1% of the Budget, respectively. Health (6%), transport, water and housing (3%), climate change (1%), and finance and planning (7%) accounted for the remaining 27% of the Budget.
JCSC (2013) further argues that 'The inter-related areas of gender-based violence, child abuse; community exposure to violence are not strategically prioritised in policy direction, articulation and inclusion. The result of this means that key gender and child-related issues are not given equal priority as critical aspects of community and human security, which are components of national security.'
We have to show greater appreciation for the critical role a well-resourced justice system plays in reducing crime and violence, securing justice and improving our economy. We need to begin to demand that governments demonstrate their expressed commitment in this regard through increased focus and allocation to improve the justice system. I'm aware that there are initiatives being implemented as a part of the justice reform efforts, but there is a clear need for much more to be done immediately.
Can you imagine the significant impact five per cent of the Ministry of National Security's budget could have on the justice system for our country if we reallocated it? This could be used to increase the number of court rooms, install technological infrastructure, improve the legal aid services, reduce case backlog or enhance the programmes of the Drug Court.
I hope good sense will prevail and that our parliamentarians will spend some time to resolve/correct what must have been a mistake in reducing the justice ministry's budget and even go as far as increasing the allocation above $6.1 billion.
It is time we take a more serious and purposeful approach to justice.