Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Editorial | In a state of anarchy

Published:Wednesday | December 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If Prime Minister Andrew Holness is able to muster the will, he would ban all year-end parties by government ministries and agencies, declare Jamaica to be in a state of anarchy, and recall Parliament from its Christmas holiday for an urgent debate on the problem of crime.

In other words, it is important for Mr Holness to grasp and acknowledge the emergency most Jamaicans know their country to be facing and to pull together all stakeholders to formulate and articulate a credible solution and, with the support of all partners, critically the political Opposition, mobilise the society for its implementation.

In the forefront of this mission, therefore, must be Mr Holness and his national security minister, Robert Montague; the commissioner of police, George Quallo; the chief of defence staff of the Jamaica Defence Force, Major General Rocky Meade; the opposition leader, Peter Phillips; and the shadow security minister, Fitz Jackson. They are the ones, in that order, who Jamaicans should hold primarily responsible for finding workable fixes to this problem.

Further, should the prime minister contest the idea of crisis, or rejects, or has trouble conjuring the concept of anarchy, we invite him to attempt to visualise, and contemplate the impact of, any of a number of recent events, like Sunday's incident in east Kingston when gunmen fired on mourners at a funeral service. Two persons were killed and several others injured.

There was, too, the June 16 incident in the heart of Montego Bay, the island's top resort, when, in busy traffic, men with powerful guns emerged from a car and shot dead Elvis Malcolm, 24, who was on his way from court in another vehicle. Or the one on September 1 that left George Hall, 70, dead. It was 11 a.m. Mr Hall was driving his minivan along a busy Queens Drive. Gunmen intercepted his vehicle and cut him down.

Such incidents are not infrequent in Montego Bay, or elsewhere in the parish of St James, of which it is the capital, where there have already been well over 300 homicides so far this year and trending at over a quarter more than in 2016. Neither are they rare in the country as a whole, which, in 2017, will record around 1,600 murders, the most in seven years. Indeed, the Malcolm and Hall murders, and the many others like them, represent impunity on the part of criminals, who are aware that fewer than half of these murders will be cleared up and less still will ever reach the courts. Impunity of this order, and in this context, is the other side of the face of anarchy.




Another perspective on this national debasement is that the number of criminal homicides in Jamaica this year will be equivalent - taking the higher estimate of the persons who died in that incident - to nearly 23 times the number of people killed in the 2010 operation in Tivoli Gardens, for which Prime Minister Holness apologised in Parliament last week. Roughly, this is like two Tivolis occurring each month.

Things can't continue like this if Jamaicans hope to live in a civilised society and the Government doesn't intend to compete for its legitimacy with criminal warlords. Instituting a turnaround will be difficult, but, with the appropriate effort and some help, it can be done.

Not so long ago, when the country's fiscal accounts were at the precipice and the economy faced grave dangers, Jamaica, with oversight from the International Monetary Fund, and monitoring by a multi-faceted group, took the tough decisions necessary to retreat from the abyss. The economy is now in reasonably decent health. The Government was able to build societal consensus around the effort.

The model can be replicated, but tailored to the specific circumstance. But, first the Government - Mr Holness, et al - has to accept that there is a crisis in need of fixing, and the Opposition - Dr Phillips and company - has to be aware that there is no value in inheriting rot.