Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Editorial | Here’s your mandate, Mr Jackson

Published:Tuesday | October 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Fitz Jackson has, potentially, the easiest job in Peter Phillips' shadow Cabinet, although he has been assigned to cover the most problematic of portfolios for Jamaican governments - national security. That it is easy assumes Mr Jackson to be cynical - which he assures he is not - and his party leader, contrary to his promise, to be permissive.

The easy option is for Mr Jackson to keep mostly quiet on issues related to his brief, except, occasionally, to support the police in some concern they raise - perhaps wage negotiations or the supposedly oppressive behaviour of the oversight investigative body, INDECOM - and to issue the periodic obligatory statements about Jamaica's crisis of crime and the country's state of fear. He might want, from time to time, to indulge in the inanity of promising that the return to office of a People's National Party (PNP) government will cause Jamaicans to sleep at night with windows and doors open, with an absence of fear of criminals.

This approach would be premised on the calculation that with more than 1,200 homicides so far this year, and an expectation that murders will be up to 25 per cent higher in 2017 than 2016, crime is the issue on which the Holness administration is extremely vulnerable to implosion. For, looking at the murder trend from another angle, it means that killings in Jamaica will, by year end, be close to 1,600, or a homicide rate of nearly 60 per 100,000. These numbers are not only among the world's highest, but Jamaica's worst murder rate since 2010 - the year of the Tivoli Gardens operation that precipitated a three-year, one-third decline in homicides.

 

Crime hurting economy

 

The impact of crime, especially homicides, is not only in the disquietude and sense of dread that it causes among Jamaicans, 50 per cent of whom, according to a 2014 study by the Inter-American Development Bank, had lost someone close to violence. It extracts a huge cost, too, from the national economy.

Indeed, that IDB study suggested that crime costs Jamaica upwards of four per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) annually. The national security minister, Robert Montague, recently gave a figure that was one percentage point higher, or around J$70 billion a year. "With that money, we could build at least 600 schools and an additional five or six hospitals," he said. Other reports say that the cost of crime is even higher.

 

Crime above partisan fray

 

It is not surprising, under the circumstances, that the Michael Lee-Chin's Economic Growth Council gave crime reduction a billing close to macroeconomic stability as matters to be tackled if the Holness administration is to achieve its

target of GDP growth of five per cent in four years, one of which has nearly elapsed. Achieving economic growth is in everyone's interest, and crime as a retardant to that goal knows no political stripe, which is why we take Mr Jackson at his word that he will not "politicise national security" or make crime the subject of "partisan considerations". He should quickly establish with his government counterpart the issues that are beyond the partisan fray.

That, of itself, is positive, but not sufficient for this newspaper, if it means that Mr Jackson and his party will cynically sit quietly and wait for Mr Montague and the Holness administration to fail. That, of course, is not what we read in the declarations of Mr Jackson and his party leader, who recently put on the table a number of short-term tactical initiatives for dealing with the spiralling murder rate.

Even in the midst of robust debate, we now expect deep policy guidance from the Opposition that Jamaicans can assess, and perhaps embrace. In other words, it needs to establish itself as a government-in-waiting, with policies and programmes ready for implementation if it gets to office.