Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Don Wehby | Speak with one voice against crime and violence

Published:Thursday | July 13, 2017 | 7:00 AM

Below are excerpts from Senator Don Wehby's contribution to the debate on Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017.

It is heart-wrenching for me, and other peace-loving Jamaicans, and I dare say the world, that our island home is so beautiful yet it is being destroyed by crime and violence. The gripping headlines over the years are testament to the blatant disregard of some Jamaicans for the life of their fellow countrymen, and the monstrosity of the crime problem.

Crime and violence is the single most challenging problem we face as a country. It has a debilitating effect on our economy. A Gleaner article indicated that it costs the Government roughly J$3.68 billion to care for victims of violence. Recently, also, the Inter-American Development Bank's study, 'Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combatting Violence with Numbers', confirmed that Jamaica spends a large portion of its earnings on fighting crime, approximately four per cent of our GDP annually, the highest in the region. This is a significant amount, which if allocated to education and infrastructure development would drive economy.

 

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

 

My private-sector colleague, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, estimated that a reduction in crime can increase the contribution manufacturing makes to GDP by 50 per cent. Crime affects production because workers are apprehensive about travelling to and from work, especially when they live in communities plagued by crime and violence.

How did we get to this place - where we are killing each other at a rate of six a day - our people - our most valuable asset? If we continue along this path, our Vision 2030 goal to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business will not happen. Our country will be destroyed if decisive action is not taken. Fixing the crime problem is going to take strong leadership and I dare say some unpopular decisions. Prime Minister Holness must be commended for demonstrating his willingness to be that leader, to take Jamaica back from the clutches of the ruthless criminals on a rampage in this country. We can't expect to keep doing things the same way and get different results. This grave situation in which we have found ourselves requires us to rethink and refocus our approach to tackling crime. Part of this approach involves focusing on the root causes of crime, which is a by-product of social ills and lack of education.

I take comfort in knowing that in every crisis, there is opportunity. When former president of the United States Barack Obama visited Jamaica, he expressed his pleasure to be here, and even more profound was his recognition that Jamaicans are a set of people with an extraordinary spirit. His sentiment was true then, and it is true now. We have a spirit that overcomes and is resilient. I believe this is an opportunity for us to put this characteristic to the test by taking a holistic approach to fighting crime. This is why I support this bill. It looks not just at measures that will allow for a response to the criminals and their criminal activities, but it also contemplates a proactive approach, by including social measures which are necessary to rebuild communities and prevent crime. It also recognises and makes provision for the protection of human rights.

The most crucial step in achieving the results that have been eluding us for so many years, that is, to reach a sustainable level of peace and order in the society, is for Jamaica to unite with one voice against crime. I'm calling on all facets of our society, the private sector, Government and Opposition, the church groups, social groups and NGOs, the members of each and every community, to speak with one voice against crime and violence. I believe strongly that this one voice starts with bipartisan support for crime initiatives, and in particular this bill. Politics should never have a place in the fight against crime. Death, pain and suffering cut across borders and colours. I've said it before and I may say it many more times after this, our governor general made a very profound statement, calling the Government and Opposition to work together, driven by the overwhelming truth that the Jamaica that unites us is infinitely greater than the political parties that divide us.