Martin Henry | Holness’ first 100 days – national security
Crime reduction and the improvement of law and order didn't make it on to the JLP's 10-Point Election Plan, although public concern over crime is consistently at the top of issues of concern in the polls.
It is much better to pay attention to the commitments of Government in office than to campaign promises. While Andrew Holness did not address the nation's top-of-the-list concern over security in a short swearing-in speech as prime minister on March 3, he did say the Government would ensure the rule of law and create a safe, secure, and fair environment for business as part of the partnership fro prosperity.
A few days later, on March 7, a "reluctant" Robert Montague was sworn in as minister of national security from the Lower House. A good choice from a tight slate of only 32 government MPs.
Bobby has the drive and tenacity for this tough ministry and has hit the ground running like virtually all the ministers in a vigorous Cabinet. He's been busy everywhere connecting with the security forces and with citizens and threatening to reintroduce hanging. His sidekick from the Senate, Minister of State Pearnel Charles Jr, has been far quieter and much less visible. We're still not clear what his specific backroom functions are in any drive to improve the national-security situation.
The police seem to be more visible on the streets. Senior police officers from the Western Kingston and Central Kingston divisions, traditional crime hot spots, recently walked downtown Kingston on a "sensitisation tour" in a bid to restore public order. "We can't police in chaos," one commanding officer declared.
The Throne Speech was silent on national security. The prime minister made up for that in his contribution to the Budget Debate. Crime and violence, he declared, are significant constraints on growth and economic well-being and the monster would have to be forcibly tackled as a central action for the prosperity agenda. The prime minister announced a number of anti-crime actions. The proposal to amend the Bail Act, "such that persons charged with murder will be ineligible for bail under certain circumstances", has drawn the opposition of criminal lawyers.
The plan to introduce a special stream within the court system for murder trials to greatly expedite the process is bound to have the effect of slowing down the rest of the overburdened justice system with its logjam of cases. In any case, the murderers will have to be caught first and airtight cases built by the prosecution.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has been making his own moves to speed up trials, generating controversy. The Government, the prime minister says, will be pushing a bold crime-fighting legislative agenda, but the police are complaining that cases under the tough anti-gang legislation passed under the previous administration are stuck in the courts.
"Incrementalism will not work," the PM shouts. Bold and decisive measures will have to be taken to significantly reduce crime and violence in the country, he declared.
But money speaks louder than prime ministers. The national-security budget has been upped by 13 per cent over last year, moving from $49.14 billion to $55.70 billion. Not bad in the normal scheme of things. Not good, if we are not into incrementalism. Non-incremental financing and strategies will be absolutely necessary for both security and justice if the crime problem is to be licked.
The prime minister announced a Security Enhancement Fund to provide a dedicated revenue stream for the maintenance of police vehicles and the repair of police stations and barracks. We await particulars.
One good innovation announced by the PM, which Minister Montague had first floated, is to use the vehicle purchase budget to buy pre-owned units and get more of them. Another is the plan to drive down domestic murders from the current 37 per cent with a scheme for early interventions in domestic disputes.
But it is definitely incrementalism to plan to increase the number of police officers by only 2,000, or a mere 16.6 per cent, from 12,000 to 14,000 over three years. While we await the slow addition of this handful of officers, the current set should occupy public spaces, restore public order, prosecute quality-of-life offences that feed harder crimes, and have these cases speeded through a revamped court system as tried and tested quick-yield, crime-fighting measures. Ten non-incremental days could begin to make a massive difference for public order and public safety.