Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Editorial | In a state of anarchy | MOCA and detoxifying JCF

Published:Thursday | February 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We hear Colonel Desmond Edwards' defence of the independence with which the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) has operated. Nonetheless, we, too, urge the speedy completion of the legislative process for its establishment as an appropriately standalone, statute-based law-enforcement and prosecutorial body.

For Colonel Edwards' declaration notwithstanding, this isn't how the public perceives MOCA. It is seen as an adjunction of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Which is why, although all his specific facts may not have been correct, there has been broad public support for Professor Anthony Harriott's call for the urgent disengagement of MOCA from the JCF. Indeed, the issue has greater currency at this time, given public discussion over the appointment of a new police chief to succeed the recently retired George Quallo.

It is widely accepted that the police force in which Mr Quallo served for four decades and led for nine months is inefficient, hugely incompetent, very corrupt and institutionally resistant to change. This is, of course, not Mr Quallo's specific legacy. It is what he inherited. His failure was in accepting the job, not recognising that he lacked the transformative skills required by the JCF.

UPHILL TASK

Indeed, rebuilding the JCF is likely to be a long, uphill task, requiring a major overhaul, including a culling of much of its top leadership, on which the Government, and primarily the prime minister, must be willing to allocate substantial political capital. It was, in part, in recognition of the tough job that fixing the JCF was that, in 2014, Peter Bunting, the then national security minister, spearheaded efforts to establish MOCA as a quasi-independent agency that would be transformed into a full law-enforcement body focusing on major crimes.

Mr Bunting's party lost the government in 2016, but 13 months ago, the new administration tabled the MOCA legislation, which was passed in the House at the start of this month. The bill is now to be debated in the Senate. Professor Harriott, a highly respected criminologist, public intellectual and recent appointee to the Police Service Commission (PSC), insists that this, and MOCA's disengagement from the standing constabulary, can't happen fast enough

"The JCF is toxic," he said. And there is no point in spending a lot of money giving (MOCA's) people high-level training for them to become part of the JCF's occupational culture,"

Colonel Edwards, seconded from the army to lead MOCA, stressed that MOCA is not a division of the JCF, although it is supported by the police force, including with members who are seconded to the agency. And that is precisely the point. While MOCA is admitted by many to be doing good work, it has not been able to establish a clear identity of its own. It is seen as part of the JCF and soon likely to be consumed, as Professor Harriott fears, by the culture of the JCF. We confess to having harboured those fears, too.

The MOCA bill seeks to establish a body that has "operational independence and autonomy" dedicated to fighting serious crime "in collaboration with strategic partners and law-enforcement agencies". It will have the capacity to hire and train its own staff and, as we observed at the time of its launch, the potential to develop into an elite investigative body.

Moreover, while the name appears to limit its investigative priorities, the list of specific crimes under its mandate is long. Put another way, getting MOCA fully independently operational would provide the administration with a credible agency, and greater flexibility, in tackling many of the country's most pressing crimes while it gets on with the detoxification of the JCF.