Editorial | Adding to the PM’s crime plan
As have all his recent predecessors and their security ministers, Andrew Holness has called for crime to be one of those issues to be removed from Jamaica's partisan discourse, even as he committed himself to "bold and decisive measures" to tackling the problem.
For now, until we are availed of further and better particulars, we suspend our judgement on the "bold and decisive measures" part, recalling that similar formulation by another leader not many years ago edged towards, if not treaded into unconstitutional paths. We nonetheless support the idea for a national consensus of sorts around crime.
It makes sense on several fronts. First, crime in Jamaica is not constrained by partisan boundaries. Its immediate victims are of all political stripes. And while its obvious psychical effects are largely delineated along socio-economic lines - mostly against the urban working class and the poor - it is on everyone.
Indeed, all Jamaicans are frightened by a murder rate, though sharply declined from six years ago, which still hovers around 40 per 100,000 and maintains Jamaica among the world's 10 most murderous nations. Moreover, crime helps to keep Jamaica poor. It diverts potential job-creating investible dollars to paying for security; and it impairs productivity and distorts the labour market by making some communities and hours off limits to enterprise. But perhaps more compelling is the often quoted statistic that crime, annually, robs Jamaica of about seven per cent of its potential economic output.
The question, though, is to how to achieve Mr Holness' hoped-for bipartisanship without removing the Government's overarching responsibility for security, or hobbling its capacity to undertake "bold and decisive measures" that are in the national interest and fall within the law. The prime minister proposes to start by reconstituting the National Security Council, a mainly information-sharing mechanism comprised primarily of government and opposition members. He suggests, too, more frequent contacts between the national security minister and his opposition shadow on policy issues.
These and the other measures outlined by Mr Holness during his Budget debate intervention on Tuesday are all, on the face of it, worthy. They, of course, will have to be further, and fully, evaluated after they are fleshed out.
We, however, feel that the Government should consider adding something else to the mix: a model that proved its worth in other areas of Jamaican and national life - the EPOC/ESET-type oversight arrangement for security and crime. The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), made up of representatives of public and private sectors as well as the labour movement, has brought transparency to the Government's implementation of its IMF-supported economic reform project and has been the moral force in ensuring that the administration keeps to agreed targets. The Electric Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) rescued the failed attempts to formulating a credible energy policy and implementable policies.
These arrangements work, as we have posited before, because they lend strong, independent, bright and technically skilled people, who are unafraid to speak frankly with those with sufficient political muscle to drive initiatives. An EPOC/ESET-type group for security and crime would not assume the role of a policy chief or the other managers in the security system. For a specific period, they would follow and help refine agreed initiatives, periodically and publicly reporting on their implementation, including factors that are likely to constrain success.