Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | Name implementation task force for Tivoli report

Published:Tuesday | June 21, 2016 | 6:00 AM

In most respects, the West Kingston commission of enquiry didn't tell Jamaicans much that they didn't already know.

The events of May 2010 in Tivoli Gardens, however, allowed the commissioners to lay out the issue in graphic and chilling detail: of the collusion between politics that gave rise to garrison communities, which, in turn, spawned a gangster like Christopher Coke, whose attempted arrest for extradition triggered resistance by his private militia, which came close to destabilising the Jamaican State. A security operation to normalise the situation led at least 69 civilian deaths. Further, the commission highlighted that Jamaica has a mostly poorly managed and largely unaccountable police force that is often accused of extrajudicial killings - as was the case during the Tivoli operation - and is in dire need of reform.

But perhaps of greater significance are the commission's recommendations - most of which we agree with -aimed at ensuring that an episode like Tivoli never recurs in Jamaica.

In this regard, we endorse the proposal for an apology by the Government to the people of Tivoli Gardens and west Kingston, and Jamaica generally, for any excesses that may have taken place during the operation. This should be seen not only as a start to healing and part of restorative justice, but as the Jamaican State setting down a marker of renewal; a commitment that the kind of behaviour of which some members of the security forces, particularly the constabulary, will never again be tolerated.

We support, too, the idea of compensation to the estate of the 15 to 20 persons who the commissioners believe may have been victims of extrajudicial killings by agents of the State. The bill of probably J$100 million would be a small price in this reset of the State's relationship with some of its citizens.

That, however, would be the easy part. More difficult is how to overhaul a constabulary that has lost the civilian policing skills and has largely morphed into a corrupt paramilitary unit, which its political masters tend to curry-favour, for fear of losing its support.

We appreciate, and make allowances for, the difficult and tense circumstances under which the security forces operated during the Tivoli Gardens firefights. But the enquiry revealed, whether by accident or otherwise, weaknesses in on-the-ground supervision and management by several senior police commanders, which is likely to have contributed to a breakdown in discipline that may have allowed misbehaviour and excesses by their subordinates.

 

CIVILIAN POLICING

 

Such absence of accountability is intolerable if the constabulary is to, over time, rebuild the respect and public support and societal consent, which are the foundations of civilian policing. That is why we endorse the commission's proposal for external oversight, with periodic reviews, of the Mobile Reserve unit, its special armed response group, whose members are too often accused of excesses, including during the Tivoli operation. The police force, more broadly, as this newspaper has long argued, and as the commission now says, is in need of structured oversight.

These, and the other recommendations of the commission, however, won't just happen. Without specifics, they, like others in the past, will linger until forgotten.

We, therefore, insist that the Government appoint an implementation task force, made up of key ministers and public-sector officials, as well as the members of the Opposition and civil-society organisations, with a mandate to get the job done within a specific time frame.