Editorial | What Mr Montague might do
Robert Montague's ability in his speeches, to, with a straight face and oblivious to discomfort, stick his feet in his mouth, places the security minister in danger, unfortunately, of developing a reputation for buffoonery and ineptitude. "In terms of leading policy initiatives, it is condoms, used cars and death penalty," was former education minister, Ronnie Thwaites' bitingly whimsical assessment of Mr Montague's performance after three months on the job.
Yet, Robert Montague is no fool. Indeed, as he made clear when he was appointed to the post, Mr Montague is in charge of a portfolio that historically does little, and mostly nothing, to enhance ministerial reputations. And if things continue on the current trajectory, Mr Montague's will fare no better than his predecessors.
Indeed, while the police have reported a 10 per cent drop in major crimes over the first five months of this year, the rate for homicides remained approximately the same, but with a nasty twist: the killings appear to be moving from the Kingston-St Andrew-St Catherine metropolitan region, which reported a 19 per cent drop in homicides, compared to the same period last year. Moreover, there is a perception that crime, largely defined as murders, is worsening after an uptick over the past two years, following a cumulative one-third decline over the previous half decade.
Mr Montague may be powerless in preventing his reputation from taking a hit, at least in the short term. Yet, there are things he can do to lift public confidence in the country's capacity to tackle the crime problem, and ultimately, in a sustained way reduce the actual incidence of crime. The most important of these, we appreciate, involves a bit of burden-shifting on our part, that is, our suggestion that Mr Montague persuade Prime Minister Andrew Holness to take personal ownership of the anti-crime efforts, making it clear that it is an absolute priority of the Government - as has been done with economic growth - but without the imprimatur of his office crowding out the independence of the minister. Mr Holness has good cause, even now, to send that signal, given the oft-quoted statistics that crime in Jamaica clips around seven per cent from the value of the country's annual output of goods and services.
What, however, is in the minister's gift is the embrace of an idea previously raised by this newspaper that was, in a fashion, on its way to implementation by Mr Montague's predecessor, Peter Bunting - the establishment of an EPOC/ESET type group to provide oversight to the implementation of the government policy and related initiatives to address crime. EPOC (Economic Programme Oversight Committee) was a crucial watchdog that helped the previous administration maintain discipline in pursuing its tough IMF-supported reform programme. ESET (Electric Sector Enterprise Team) did something similar in energy.
Mr Bunting last November announced that a crime/security group was being established and would be chaired by lawyer and businessman Howard Mitchell, a competent and committed Jamaican with whom the current administration should have no reason to be uncomfortable. That idea should be resuscitated.
Additionally, Mr Montague should probably acquaint himself with the initiative launched by Rio de Janeiro's Police Pacification Unit and extended to favelas in other Brazilian cities to determine its possible adoption to Jamaica's inner-city communities. It would be useful for Mr Montague to engage Prof Anthony Clayton of the University of the West Indies at Mona on this idea.