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Editorial | The PM must own Tivoli report

Published:Wednesday | June 29, 2016 | 6:00 AM

We appreciate the Government's need to review the findings and recommendations of the commission of enquiry before it can make firm declarations about which, if any, of them it embraces and implements. But that need not take forever. Nor has the review to be completed before someone is mandated ownership of it, signalling that it is being taken seriously and won't suffer the usual fate of such documents - being filed away on a dank shelf in some ministry to gather mildew and dust.

In this case, the owner must be Andrew Holness, the prime minister - for two inter-related reasons. One, the recommendations by Sir David Simmons and his fellow commissioners call for a major overhaul of some of Jamaica's ruinous political and security arrangements that, for decades, have been impenetrable to change. That resistance has the best chance of being broken by the full engagement of a committed prime minister who brings to the battle the full imprimatur of his office.

 

HAMPERING ECONOMIC ACTIVITY

 

Second, victory on this front would enhance Mr Holness' prospects of delivering the sustained growth he made central to his Government's agenda, and for which he has taken personal ownership by anchoring most related drivers in a ministry under his command. Or, put another way, crime and social instability hamper economic activity and are estimated to annually snip up to seven per cent from Jamaica's output of goods and services.

In May 2010, when the security forces went to Tivoli Gardens to serve an extradition warrant for the community's strongman and crime boss, Christopher Coke, the area was, as it remains, a garrison community, one of those places where a single party, on the basis of the muscled control of citizens by a local don, enjoys a monopoly on political activity and support.

Tivoli Gardens, though the archetype for these communities, and in the orbit of Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party, isn't the only one. And Coke was only the most powerful of these politically aligned gangsters who have sought to exercise independence from political sponsors.

As the commissioners noted, however, no democratic country can allow within its borders "communities that cannot be effectively and efficiently policed by legitimate civil power". Then there is the constraint of competitive political activity in these communities, which is antithetical to democracy.

So, Mr Holness, on the face of it, ought to have a major stake in dismantling garrisons and in putting his personal prestige, and that of his office, behind the effort. Indeed, we expect that he would back the proposal for an independent body, structured similarly to the Electoral Commission, and appropriately resourced, to oversee the project.

Apart from social services support for communities, degarrisonisation must be underpinned by another critical plank: trusted state security arrangements, capable of filling the vacuum left by retreating criminal strongmen. In many communities, the constabulary has lost that trust. The organisation is perceived to be corrupt and the behaviour of its members arbitrary.

During the Tivoli operations, the security forces, the police especially, were believed to have engaged in extrajudicial killings. The commissioners have called for new systems to ensure the accountability of the force and its personnel, including greater civilian oversight.

Mr Holness should find the fortitude to follow through on the recommendations.