Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Mark Wignall | PM’s greatest task is selling hope

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

At six years of age just about everything appears big, so I remember the big house we lived in close to the old Moneague square. The blue and brown paint on the outside was probably flaking, but everything inside provided me with a newness, wonderment, warmth and togetherness.

I will not pretend that all was well with the rest of the society in the 1950s, and, at six years of age, I could only see what my parents carried into my social and geographical orbit. My father was an electrician at the Reynolds bauxite mining plant, but he also tended to be a bit bookish, always filling our heads with fascinating tales, like the stirrings of the space race and where the planets in our solar system fitted into the universe.

Without me even knowing the meaning of the word hope, it was being fed to me by family and education and the unfurling of a better future.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has something all-important to sell us, and in 2018 his sales pitch and marketing skills will be severely tested. Worse, many of the potential buyers of his product will be picking at it, turning it around and even smelling it to see if it's worth putting in the shopping bag.

It's called hope. At its most basic in the Jamaican context it, first, must mean that our chances of being murdered in 2018 will be considerably less than they were in 2017. The big indicator is, at least, a 20-per cent fall-off in murders from 2017 to next year.

After that, not much else matters to many people, as householders from many walks of life - from the hillside farmer tending to his three squares to the student just out of university and to the businessman trying to sell a few more widgets. So long as government deals with the security of the nation, the people will fill in the blanks and see about their own lives.

Of course, it would not hurt if the government continues to make the climate business friendly to domestic and overseas investors, oversee a radical fix to the delivery of justice, rid the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) of pathologically corrupt elements, and let us witness a significant decrease in poor road surfaces.

The job of a prime minister goes way beyond the technocratic shuffling of papers and ministers as well as delivering speeches. The prime minister must, first, be believable before he spreads out his wares in every town square, parish capital, inner-city pocket and gully bank. He also needs an opposition to keep him on his feet and bring about an upping of his game.

Or, even better for him in the short run, he needs an opposition that has little 'fish-nor-fowl' choices, like the present make-up and wide public perception of the People's National Party (PNP).

 

Growth, not rebranding

 

Andrew Holness made impossible promises in the run-up to the 2016 election. Unlike his ill-fated campaign in the late days of the 2011 election when he foresaw the stiff International Monetary Fund dictates and spoke of bitter medicine to come, he knew that opting for the truth in politics is a coward's game.

So, he told us that a vote for the PNP would, in essence, be a worsening of the security of the nation. And then there was that thing on taxes with talk of it presently buried down a rabbit hole. PM Holness, like Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, knows there is no Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or PNP handle on crime. If the uniquely unready PNP should ever be catapulted into power this year or the next, controlling the violent criminality would present it with the same set of problems as the JLP administration and the police now have.

The crime problem stems from gangs with many guns and often in each other's way as is now taking place in a section of the Mountain View area dominated by JLP voters. Most of the inner-city communities are structured like that section of Mountain View in St Andrew. The society is criminalised and armed gangsters fight over extortion rights or as recently in Rockfort, Kingston the purchase of guns, the lotto scam and warfare.

How can the prime minister be that voice giving an increasing number of Jamaicans the assurance that what he has to sell as hope is workable? Should we believe him like we did in his 'bitter medicine' days when he was speaking truth towards securing an election loss or should we accept that he is selling 'flimflam', like he did on his way to a win when he promised us in 2016 that we would be able to sleep with our doors open?

Mr Holness has many sleepless nights ahead of him, as the negotiations with the JCF go nowhere and every other policeman is on sickout, having recently contracted 'maligripe and fluxy complaint.'

 

Collective security

 

Veteran journalist Ben Brodie has said that his 'collective security' plan comes at a time when the country is clearly at its wits' end as to how to tackle the crime monster. Solutions on the street range from public executions or the burning of gunmen to leaving everything to God. Some in-between solutions have been tried but, to date, for various reasons, none have been successful.

Brodie states that his plan won't cost anywhere near the $2.6 billion that the zones of special operations is likely to cost.

"Almost all the elements needed for implementation are already in place. It is to give citizens properly, solidly and legally organised in their communities the primary responsibility to devise and implement individual community security plans to push back crime and keep communities as crime-free as possible," Brodie argues.

Brodie notes that much of crime-fighting in Jamaica centres on the rehashing of old ideas and pouring them into old bottles with new branding. We cannot lull ourselves out of the failed model that presently exists with the constabulary force being the only body mandated to solve our crime problems, especially murders.

Says Brodie: "Collective security will free up the constabulary force to put its house in order and intensify the quality and scope of its work in other vital areas."

He boldly states, "The administration of Prime Minister Holness needs to stir up the courage to put the weight of the state behind this collective security plan while the leadership at the community level has to brace itself to assume more responsibility. It will now have a new role to play for its own and the nation's sake."

In the late 1960s, when the early infection of gun violence was setting in, Desmond Dekker and the Aces wrote Shanty Town in 1966. One part of its lyrics went, 'Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail a Shanty Town.'

In 1967, the Silvertones sung the Guns Fever.

'Did you read the news? I'm a bit confused,

The gun fever is back, the guns fever

Rudeness and gun is the talk of the town,

The gun fever is back, the guns fever.'

Those of us who would like to believe that the present level of violent criminality has come upon us out of nowhere need to reread our history. It was always in the making and, to a large extent, was given legitimacy by the same political parties that we elect to exchange places in government - the PNP and the JLP.

Both the PNP and the JLP have stuck to the old failed model of fighting crime. It's a legitimate question to ask - how can administrations formed by those same progenitors of criminality reasonably approach solving crime with any energy? Aren't old friends subject to hurt?

Every member of the JCF, whom I have spoken with, is convinced that the police cannot solve the violent crime problem in Jamaica. It's time for a new approach, Minister Montague.

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