Wed | Jan 18, 2017

Editorial | National security and the budget

Published:Thursday | January 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The obvious takeaway from the revised Budget that Audley Shaw presented to Parliament this week is that the Government has begun to deliver on its promise to prioritise spending on citizens' security and justice.

So, Minister Shaw jacked up the Budget for the national security ministry by J$5.9 billion, or 37 per cent, to approximately J$22 billion. The largest slice of that increase is going to the military, including J$2.3 billion for the overhaul and purchase of vessels for the Jamaica Defence Force's (JDF) Coast Guard. Additionally, the police are getting $1.9 billion to run their shop; they are, for instance, upgrading their communications infrastructure. More money is also going to the Government's forensic laboratory and to the correctional services.

It is unlikely that many people will be arguing against these expenditures, or against the overall two per cent - J$12.8 billion - increase of the 2016-17 Budget. Indeed, in their overarching framework document, Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Economic Growth Committee argued that macroeconomic stability apart, a relatively safe society - a combination of the effective rule of law and an efficient justice system - is most crucial if Jamaica is to achieve sustained economic growth.

 

NO NEW GROUND

 

In this, they covered no new ground. Reams of studies and analyses on Jamaica's economy have concluded that its expansion is severely hampered by its crisis of violent crime. The most common assumption is that if Jamaica had a homicide rate of, say, eight or 10 per 100,000, economic output would rise by perhaps an additional seven per cent annually.

With murders having declined by approximately one-third at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, and a homicide rate in the mid-30s, the killings are on the rise again. The murder rate in 2016 was close to 50 per 100,000, but substantially worse in some parishes. In St James, it was approximately three times the national average, at over 141 per 100,000; Clarendon's was 55.

If the JDF can better patrol Jamaica's coastal waters and the borders are less porous, that should keep out of the island some of the illegal guns used in these killings. And if improved infrastructure enhances capacity of the police to communicate, and scientists at the forensic lab have adequate facilities with which to do their jobs, the result should be improved crime detection and prevention. That's good for the society.

 

CAN'T BE A ONE-OFF SPEND

 

Such spending, though, can't be one-off. There are other areas of the security apparatus in need of resources. It is notable, too, that the justice sector was not significantly addressed in Mr Shaw's supplementary budget. We expect that some of these will get attention in the new fiscal year.

Yet, even as these initiatives have our support, that is not without provisos. First, the Government can't merely throw new money at the problem. It first has to thoroughly review the security and justice apparatus to eliminate waste and improve efficiencies.

The reallocation of resources must be the starting point. Which leads to a second critical point: increased spending on citizens' security and justice shouldn't be the pretext for raising or introducing new taxes. Rather, the Government must set priorities. If after the fat is cut there are shortfalls, the gaps should be closed by the accelerated divestment of state assets.