Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Editorial | Montague proves case for Vale Royal talks

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We take Robert Montague, the national security minister, at his word that he is serious about having independent performance oversight of his ministry and the agencies that fall under it. The committee he has named to do the job is of serious people, led by Peter Moses, a talented and competent man, who has done this kind of thing before.

And it is precisely because of the seriousness of this enterprise that we are surprised - or perhaps ought not to be - in the way that Mr Montague seems to going about inviting the buy-in, and participation, of the political Opposition in the project. They, of course, should be there.

For as Mr Moses, the former country head of Citibank, observed at the launch of Securipoc (Security Programme Oversight Committee) last Thursday, national security isn't - or shouldn't be - a partisan issue. It affects everyone.

"It is estimated that crime is costing us about five per cent of GDP," Mr Moses said. "When you work that out in real numbers, you are looking at over J$70 billion per year. With that money, we could build at least 100 schools, [or] an additional five or six hospitals." Mr Moses might have noted in that cost, the nearly 1,200 people murdered in Jamaica, giving the country one of the globe's highest homicide rates of more than 44 per 100,000.

According to Mr Montague, Securipoc - seemingly modelled off the committee that monitors Jamaica's agreement with the IMF - is, "by policy", a 15-member group. The minister wants to add a 16th.

He said at the launch: "I want to make a public call to invite Peter Bunting (the shadow security minister) to sit on this committee and to have him demonstrate to the rest of the country and the Caribbean that we are all serious about treating with crime and violence in this country."

 

Gimmick invitation

 

We believe that the problem is with construction, rather than what the minister intended to imply about Mr Bunting if he doesn't accept the invitation. Our larger concern - if there was no prior formal invitation to the Opposition - and there was no indication of it - is that the offer was being made in public. If there was no previous discussion on the issue, the door was opened for the Opposition to cast the invitation as a gimmick.

This episode brings us back to our call for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to revive the Vale Royal Talks between the Government and the Opposition on issues that should be above and beyond a politically partisan tug of war.

The battle against crime is the foremost of these issues. Indeed, as the Government's task force on economic growth observed, and Mr Moses reiterated, crime is the greatest impediment to expanding national output, which is important to creating jobs and generating surpluses and therefrom the taxes that the State can invest in the national social and physical infrastructure. This newspaper would have appreciated that Mr Moses' committee, as a precursor to a formally legislated arrangement, having the imprimatur of the Opposition, forged in a forum like the Vale Royal Talks, with the private sector also at the table.

As we previously suggested, a mechanism for a wider group, beyond the prime minister and the security chiefs, to decide on areas to be intervened under the Government's latest anti-crime initiative, the zones of special operations, is ripe for these sessions.

Further, the Government promised the IMF, as part of proposed structural reforms under its standby agreement, to table by the end of October a new Police Service Act to support the modernisation of the existing constabulary. The existing police force is universally perceived to be corrupt and poorly led. We repeat: The Vale Royal Talks, inclusive of the private sector, would be a useful forum to debate whether it wouldn't make sense to dissolve the current force and create a completely new one.