Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Are the mayors just clueless?

Published:Thursday | January 26, 2017 | 1:00 AM

There is something peculiar about the discussion of crime and violence in Jamaica: just how little the leaders of the parishes where the problem is worse seem to contribute to the debate. It may be that they are so overwhelmed by the crisis that they don't know where to start, or what to say.

If it is so, it's untenable. In which event, we would suggest that the chairmen of the municipal councils consider whether they should be in their jobs, starting with Homer Davis, the mayor of Montego Bay, the capital of the parish of St James.

Mr Davis' parish happens to be the most murderous in Jamaica. Last year, it recorded more than 260 homicides. Its murder rate was 140 per 100,000, or approximately three times the Jamaican average, which itself is among the world's highest. The forecasts are no better for 2017. For the first 21 days of January, there were 12 killings in the parish, compared to one for the comparative period in 2016.

We do not claim that these dire statistics are Mr Davis' fault. He is not responsible for policing the parish. Jamaica's constabulary falls under a national rather than municipal jurisdiction. Moreover, Mr Davis can argue that he became the chairman of the St James municipal council merely two months ago, after last December's local government elections.

These explanations notwithstanding, Mr Davis cannot expect a free pass. We don't grant him one. Nor do we allow any such claim to exculpation to Bertel Moore of Westmoreland; Winston Maragh of Hanover; or of Clarendon, whose municipalities last year had homicides rates of 79, 76, and 55 per 100,000, respectively.

First, although Mr Moore was the only one who was in the job prior to the December elections, the others have had long stints on the council. All of them were aware of the problems in their parishes and felt they had solutions. If it were otherwise, they shouldn't be in representational politics, much less the leadership of their municipal councils. Put differently, they can't have come to leadership without ideas. But we don't expect them to act alone or perceive them to be solely responsible for answers.

 

PROPOSING SOLUTIONS

 

Therein lies our concern at the relative silence of these gentlemen on the crises in their communities.

It is well known that the parish of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland are at the centre of the criminal enterprise in which mostly elderly Americans are annually defrauded of hundreds of millions United States dollars, having been made to believe they have won sweepstakes but are required to pay fees and taxes before collecting their prizes. The problem of violence arises in Jamaica when the criminals in Jamaica fall out, sometimes over the sharing of spoils; if couriers siphon some of the cash they collect; or over access to, or ownership of, purloined lists with critical information about potential victims. On such occasions they don't just kill each other, but, often, each other's families.

Against the backdrop of all this, you would expect that municipal council leaders would mobilise their communities, seeking to isolate the criminals, while cooperating with each other on the problem and proposing solutions to the national leadership, such as in law enforcement and for the fast-tracking of related criminal cases. Unfortunately, we do not apprehend a sense of urgency from them.