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Peter Espeut | A disadvantage of smallness

Published:Friday | September 23, 2016 | 9:00 AM

Being a small country has its advantages, like not needing layers of administrative bureaucracy (e.g., federal, provincial, county, municipal) to effectively govern the whole territory.

On a relatively small island like Jamaica, with a relatively small population, it should be possible to create agencies/ministries to efficiently provide educational and health services to the citizenry, to develop and maintain the necessary road and sanitation infrastructure, while keeping crime under control.

But being a small country has its disadvantages. Everybody at the top knows everybody else, and if you research, you will find either family ties or church, school, club, lodge or political connections binding them together. When the time comes to hire staff or to award contracts, in a small country it is hard to avoid conflicts of interest and accusations of nepotism, partiality and favouritism, or, on the other hand, bias, prejudice and discrimination.

That is why, if you are interested in justice and fair play, in a small country, it is crucially important to put structures in place to guarantee transparency and a level playing field and checks and balances to detect hiring and procurement irregularities. Every public official and every government agency must be accountable to someone or some oversight agency, with as much independence from connectedness as is possible in a small country.

 

DETECTING AND PROSECUTING CRIME

 

When it comes to the detection of crime and the prosecution of alleged offenders, small countries have a particular problem. There is always going to be a close connection between politics (the executive branch of government), the police (the investigative arm of the justice system), and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which lays charges and leads prosecutorial evidence in court).

The executive arm of Government (the political directorate) appoints (through the governor general) the Services Commissions which appoint, reappoint and promote a wide variety of public officers. This pretence at independent appointments has lost its lustre and needs to be revisited.

In an effort to display 'independence' and the impossibility of political interference, the DPP is accountable to no one. At the same time, the Office of the DPP has no investigators of its own, and is forced to rely on the police to be able to fulfil even the smallest part of its mandate. When police officers are accused of crimes - especially murder - who will investigate the allegations, lay charges, and prosecute the cases? There is an incestuous relationship here that may lead to suspicions of a 'dollyhouse' at work.

When politicians are accused of crimes, nothing ever seems to come of it! And we seem to have a hard time prosecuting Jamaican drug dealers, gunrunners and lottery scammers, although other jurisdictions seem to be able to do so after extradition.

The decision by Government to create the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) to investigate crimes allegedly committed by policemen came after the demonstrable failure of the police to investigate their own; but INDECOM has no prosecutorial powers, which means that the dollyhouse allegations continue.

 

INDECOM POLICE KILLINGS REPORT

 

Before Parliament last Tuesday, INDECOM reported that 340 members of the public were killed in various police operations between July 2013 and December 2015. This is a very high rate of police killings - one of the highest in the world! In larger countries with layers of jurisdiction, responsibility to investigate and prosecute allegations of local police criminality can be passed to another level - provincial or federal. A small country like Jamaica does not have this ready-made and available option. Small is not always beautiful.

Recent police killings of unresisting unarmed black men in various parts of the USA have resulted in calls for independent prosecutors to be brought in, for history has shown that local authorities defend their own. What options are available to us with our chronic world-class rate of police killings?

And in the context where politicians are accused of fraud and arranging kickbacks and giving out guns and hiring hit men to commit murder - and the list could go on - what hope could there ever be of thorough investigation and diligent prosecution in small dollyhouse Jamaica?

We tried seconding high-level Scotland Yard detectives to our police force, and it seems to have yielded some success. Now the FBI and the ATF and the DEA will set up offices in Jamaica. We can look forward to, I think, more arrests and more extraditions.

But can we strengthen INDECOM? And if we can't create our own Jamaican FBI (only more dollyhouse) can we outsource investigation and evidence-gathering of our more serious corruption cases?

We may be a small country, suffering from the disadvantages of smallness; but we have big friends who may be able to help us where we can't help ourselves.

• Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.