Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Ronald Mason | Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Published:Sunday | June 18, 2017 | 6:00 AM

Jamaica is in the grip of fear and the unknown. It is hard for a small society to rationalise 136 murders in a single calendar month. It is even harder to put these murders in the context where there is no obvious civil strife.

The politicians from both parties have been paying lip service to actually doing something about the crime situation. The talk has become discordant and hollow. The police are proving more ineffective daily. The choice of language that was recently used to describe both killers and killed is at best superficial: "dutty criminal", "gang-related", with little or no enlightenment.

I agree with the most recent response in the form of a plea by the prime minister that some government expenditure may have to be redirected to fighting crime. Let me make it quite clear that fighting crime of the nature that exists in Jamaica must include law enforcement, justice and security, education and health.

What should present itself as obvious is where to cut. Culture. Forgo Grand Gala for the next five years. Prancing on the stadium field does nothing for us, and it would be disingenuous to couch an opposition to this in terms of making some money available to the poor and marginalised. If this has any redeeming value, charge fees and see how much you can collect. Package the programme and sell it on pay-per-view, and then you will see how uninterested the world is. It might be too late for the 2017 celebration to be scrapped, as we are fast approaching the performance date. Scrap the culture ministry for now.

 

MONEY IS AVAILABLE

 

Second, if we can raid the National Housing Trust, look at raiding the National Insurance Fund, Tourism Enhancement Fund, the CHASE Fund and review the size of the public sector. Money is available from these. Put on a special campaign for outstanding funds. Scrap the ticket amnesty and redeploy some property tax from the municipal corporations, which really serve no purpose anyway. A small country like this does not need so many layers of governance, Mr Prime Minister. Funds can be found, but that comes with a political price. Are you prepared to pay that political price?

Why should this be done now and on the scale that is needed? Economically, the crime situation is costing us five per cent of GDP. Socially, the lack of results in crime fighting embellishes the idea of vigilantism. The inability to provide a meaningful education for our young instead of only warehousing them is having a dangerous effect on the society. If there is police versus gang 'shoot-out' in Negril, Montego Bay, or Ocho Rios, the country will suffer long-term damage.

Where children are being sent to school and the schooling has no effect on their development, they will graduate to be social misfits. Early pregnancies, multiple births outside of stable relationships, and a strong desire to get rich quickly at the expense of social norms cannot continue to be tolerated. We must move heaven and earth to make the society livable.

 

CATERING TO THE LOWEST DENOMINATOR

 

We talk about jobs in the business process outsourcing sector, but nobody understands that the companies are interviewing 20 persons to fill one available vacancy. Nineteen persons 'cannot cross it'. We have a society that caters to the lowest common denominator. A major TV station fills its broadcast time with extreme drivel. We are importing for local consumption drivel from America, Africa, India, and God knows where else. Mr Prime Minister, I herewith encourage you to act swiftly, decisively and with clearly defined outcomes to focus on justice, security, education and health.

In the refocused society, pay attention to quality, availability and accessibility to what is really needed. Judges, courtrooms and staff, a good and functioning Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Justice must be swift and sure. We need an educational system in which all schools are properly equipped and include performance-based pay for teachers. Discount the sure-to-follow lame responses that teachers are only to teach and not parent children. Those statements are cover for the incompetence that drives the results we currently have.

We must take note that many of the jobs that are available today will be obsolete in a few years. Just think of the introduction, impact and potential of the smartphone, an instrument virtually unknown in Jamaica 25 years ago.

Think of the multiplier effect on the economy where there is a significant decrease in crime. Five per cent growth in GDP would no longer be aspirational, but realistically achievable. The sensitivities of a black government not wanting to build modern new prisons to house its majority black citizens is cock-eyed reasoning.

The fact that teachers in Jamaica are not employed with contracts that provide for reassignment to schools of greatest need hampers the fight against crime. It is a broken chain. Mr Prime Minister, act now to rejoin the links.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.