Editorial | Put new rev into security summit
Nothing in Jamaica is more impatient of national consensus as a strategic plan for tackling crime and public disorder. The data insist upon this fact.
In 2017, there were 1,616 murders in Jamaica, which means that 60 persons were killed for every 100,000 people who live on the island. The number of killings last year represented a 20 per cent increase on 2016's, but the statistics weren't the worse the country has had. That belongs to 2009, when there were 1,680 homicides, at a rate of 62 per 100,000. In the decade up to 2017, more than 13,000 murders were recorded in Jamaica.
So far in 2018, with still a third of the month of February to go, there have already been nearly 200 murders - a higher rate than last year's. And that is happening with almost zero murders in the parish of St James in recent weeks, where a state of public emergency is in place, and before that a zone of special operations (ZOSO) declared in Mount Salem and its environs. A ZOSO, which gives the security forces powers similar to that enjoyed in a state of emergency, is also in force in a section of West Kingston.
A state of emergency is not sustainable over the long term and, constitutionally, wasn't designed to be. The ZOSO project, on paper, has workable elements. Its implementation, thus far, has, at best, been limp. That is why this newspaper is disappointed that Howard Mitchell, the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), called off the summit he planned for last weekend on crime and security.
The PSOJ is Jamaica's leading business group. As we understand his intent, Mr Mitchell hoped to leverage its influence and prestige to get the Government and Opposition, along with key technocrats, private-sector leaders,
civil-society groups and other significant stakeholders, to agree on an approach to mitigating, and ultimately, bringing Jamaica's crime levels within international norms. In a way, this
summit mirrors this newspaper's call for a reconvening of the long-in-abeyance Vale Royal Talks between the Government and Opposition with a special focus on crime and with the private sector at the table.
What was potentially better about Mr Mitchell's idea was his demand that the Government and Opposition sign a memorandum of understanding committing to pursue the plan, whichever formed the Government, thereby eliminating the risks of electoral cycles and an appeal to populism.
Further, the PSOJ hoped to secure the deal by establishing an oversight body to police implementation of the programme. We would have suggested that it be further cemented by the PSOJ encouraging its members to withhold funding from any political party that reneges on its pledge.
Additionally, in the context of the summit, it would have been tempting to coax Mr Mitchell's immediate predecessor, Paul Scott, the chairman and principal of the Musson Group, to take a leave of absence from his business and throw his hat in the ring for the police commissioner job, or perhaps take on the oversight role on a full-time basis, if, as seems likely, the retired army general, Antony Anderson, will be the new police commissioner. Mr Scott would probably be more comfortable to take such a plunge now that Nigel Clarke, one of his senior executives and adviser to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, has taken the plunge into representational politics.
Unfortunately, the summit has been on hold, ostensibly to allow the passage of "critical amendments to legislation related to the security environment". We would have thought that any legislation planned by the Government would have benefited from the kinds of interventions that would be expected at the summit.
It would have been an opportunity, too, for Jamaica's international partners, especially Britain, Canada and the United States, which help to finance our security apparatus, to have a say. If there are hands other than Mr Mitchell's behind the delay, they hopefully can help in breaking the logjam.