Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial | Dividends from ending corrupt politics

Published:Monday | February 6, 2017 | 2:00 AM

We have a suggestion for Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

He should suspend the regular business at today's meeting of the Cabinet and instruct ministers to read the series by the University of the West Indies social anthropologist Herbert Gayle on criminal violence in Jamaica, published by this newspaper over the past week.

The PM should then invite Dr Gayle for a deeper discussion on the issues, towards fashioning solutions. As part of their effort to internalise the issues, Mr Holness should, for a time, relocate his Government to a community where violent crime is rampant, preferably one in St James, a parish whose 2016 homicide rate was above 140 per 100,000, or nearly three times the national average.

The latter point is significant. With a murder rate of 50 per 100,000, Jamaica is not only in the top tier of the world's murderous countries, but according to Dr Gayle, at civil-war proportions, the benchmark for which is 30/100,000.

Beyond the scale of killing, two other of Dr Gayle's observations insist upon our attention: One is the victimhood of boys, who grow to become the main perpetrators of violence; and the second is how politics, as practised in Jamaica, helped to create an environment accommodating of criminal violence.

For instance, boys are three times more likely than girls to be brutally beaten in the home. They account for up to 95 per cent of all stabbings, shootings and battering of children. Not only do boys represent 93-95 per cent of child victims of murder, they are killed more often than women and girls combined. They are more often hungrier than girls, and up to a quarter of the boys who live in inner-city communities hustle on the streets.

With regard to the second of the highlighted observations, Dr Gayle noted that the country's "segmentary factional politics creates weak central political authority", which contributes to an overburdened constabulary, which is likely to be overexposed to violence. "War-ready police clash with the unloved, unsupported and sometimes tortured young men, who are also at war with each other."

In other words, Dr Gayle highlighted a form of policing that a corrupt political system has tolerated and successive leaders of government and the constabulary have lacked the gumption to forcefully confront.

 

POLITICAL COMMITMENT

 

A cleaning of this complex, toxic cauldron calls for political commitment, time, resources, and extraordinary leadership.

Mr Holness, the first, as he has boasted, of the post-Independence generation to head the Government, has an opportunity to be that leader. That requires more than declarations of intent.

It demands, first, political spine - a willingness to turn his party and the administration hard against political relationships and a process of governance whose evolution embraced corruption.

Mr Holness shouldn't fear that his actions create a vacuum of power to be filled by his opponents in the People's National Party (PNP). For, he will have done the right thing. In the event, the PNP, with either the outgoing leader, Portia Simpson Miller, or her presumptive successor, Peter Phillips, would be forced to follow.

A retreat from the factional politics in Jamaica's garrisons will be a start towards a normalisation that lessens violence. And reduced violence and corruption in Government can free resources to help finance the social and other interventions identified by Dr Gayle as the lasting solution to the problem, which, ultimately, leads to sustainable growth.