Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Editorial | Here’s the flaw, Minister Montague

Published:Sunday | February 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Blaming fault-finding in others is hardly the best approach to fixing flaws within ourselves. It's usually the excuse for not confronting our own shortcomings and indiscretions.

Unintentionally, perhaps, that is precisely the impression that has been left by the national security minister, Robert Montague, with regard to the crisis of confidence faced by the island's police force and the consensus among Jamaicans that it is in need of radical overhaul. But revamping the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) won't necessarily require a total disbandment and starting from scratch.

Mr Montague, we appreciate, faces an unenviable situation. With Jamaica's high crime rate, with more than 1,600 murders in 2017, up 20 per cent on the previous year, and more than 200 so far in 2018, he oversees the most challenging portfolio in the Government, with hardly sufficient resources to confront the problem. Further, while as minister he sets policy, Mr Montague has no say in the operational superintendence of the constabulary. That, by law, is the preserve of the police chief. Yet, it is the minister who bears the brunt of blame for the sense of insecurity understandably felt by Jamaicans.

Mr Montague, apparently, believes he has to work with what he has. Like most national security ministers before him, he has sidled up to the police force, which, apart from, and partly because of, its role in crime prevention and apprehension, has grown into a powerful political bloc. He is careful to avoid offence and speaks of the constabulary in populist brogue, hoping to keep cops onside.


Corrupt forces


The problem with this approach is the danger it poses for skirting the core crisis of the JCF, an institution fashioned on paramilitary lines that has changed little in more than 150 years. The police force, which 'clears up' around 40 per cent of murders, is widely held to be inefficient, if not incompetent. But worse, it is acknowledged that large swathes of membership are corrupt and made safe by an institutional culture that ring-fences the group.

The upshot is that the police force is rigidly resistant to change, evidenced by the little headway made in implementing the recommendations for reform contained in several reports commissioned over the past quarter-century.

This takes us back to Mr Montague's latest blame-shifting at a forum hosted by this newspaper when he conflated proposed reform of the JCF with its disbandment, which he characterised as "a Utopian dream", as well as arrived at the misguided assumption of a widely held belief that fixing crime is entirely the province of the police.

He said: "Right now in St James (where a state of emergency is in force), you have upstanding persons in the society, professionals, who are providing services to those very criminals. They will come to the table and attend forums and give lovely speeches, yet, in the dark, they are providing help to criminal elements."

Indeed, we concur with the minister that corruption is not a problem only of the police and politicians and that they are not the only ones to be held accountable, legally or morally, for its resolution. But they control critical levers of the State, with respect to the creation and enforcement of laws. These are critical to the maintenance of discipline and order in the society. A corrupt police force can't properly do its job, and it is Mr Montague's responsibility to ensure that Jamaica possesses a well-ordered and professional constabulary.

In this regard, Mr Montague has to recognise that he is not just any other citizen but has special responsibilities as a member of the Cabinet. If he has information on high-standing people, in St James or elsewhere, colluding with criminals, he has an obligation, legal and moral, to share it with the police to ensure that the scoundrels are arrested and prosecuted.

If he does nothing, other than making broad statements, Mr Montague is failing in his role as minister and citizen.