Editorial | Mr Holness’ job on crime
Politicians often make stupid statements, which they come to regret, during election campaigns. Which we expect is the case with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who, ahead of last February's vote, suggested that a victory for the incumbent People's National Party (PNP) administration would be a perpetuation of Jamaica's crisis of criminal violence.
The implication was that electing Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) would, almost automatically, mean a sharp decline in crime and a surge in citizen safety and security. Jamaicans, it was suggested, would be able to return to the good old days when they didn't have to worry about locking doors and could sleep with their windows open.
On Monday, ministers spent a good portion of a weekly meeting of the Cabinet discussing Jamaica's crime problem. The police commissioner, Carl Williams, made a presentation on the matter, the details of which have not been made public. But the police chief wasn't called to a Cabinet meeting because crime is down.
Rather, crime, at least the one that Jamaicans worry deeply about, murder, is on the increase. At the current rate, homicides, in 2016, will increase by perhaps a quarter, pushing the figure to more than 1,500 killings. It will be the third year of increase, following four of decline by a cumulative one-third. The country's murder rate, at this trajectory, will be around 56 per 100,000, or more than 20 per 100,000 higher than where we were at the peak of the downward spiral four years ago.
The raw data are cause for concern. The nature of the recent killings, however, is frightening the society, like the brazenness of recent shootings in Montego Bay and elsewhere in St James. Indeed, the Cabinet's focus on crime on Monday would have been impacted on, if not inspired, by that day's events in Spanish Town, St Catherine, where five persons, including three children, were shot dead and their homes torched. Inhumanly, two of the children were apparently tied up and shot. A survivor, who is now paralysed, had up to 10 bullets pumped into her body.
We have noted these facts not as a political rebuke to Mr Holness or his party, but to make the point that fighting criminality and enhancing citizen safety and security has to be a non-partisan, multi-stakeholder effort, which will require the Government's allocation of substantial resources, as was pointed out by Mr Holness' Economic Growth Council (ECG). For, as the group led by the entrepreneur Michael Lee-Chin observed, with macro-economic stability, "improving citizen security ... is the most important growth-inducing reform that Jamaica can undertake". It is estimated that Jamaica's high levels of crime annually cut up to six per cent of the value of the country's output.
Budgetary and other resource allocation, however, is a matter of satisfying competing interests, made more difficult for the Jamaican Government given its difficult fiscal circumstances. In the event, substantially enhanced allocations to citizens' safety and security projects, including to the police and justice reform, will require political consensus, if there is to be broad social buy-in. For in their concerted political griping over the reallocation of capital from one sector to another, the initiative could become moribund, if not fizzle.
Therein lies our urging to place crime above the partisan fray, to which politicians often say they are committed, but from which they too frequently retreat. Mr Holness has to lead this consensus-building effort.