Thu | Aug 16, 2018

Editorial | Dismantle superministry, concentrate on crime

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In the latest survey on people's attitude to democracy and governance in the Americas coordinated by Vanderbilt University, 12.4 per cent of Jamaicans told researchers that they felt unsafe in their neighbourhoods.

In the context of the island's crime problem, with its more than 1,600 murders in 2017 and a homicide rate of 60 per 100,000, the sense of safety among Jamaicans seems remarkably high. But the data mask another reality. The fact is that the number of Jamaicans who said they felt unsafe in their communities had doubled in 2016-17 than at the time of the previous survey two years before.

The Government, we expect, is not only aware, but appreciates the implication of this finding and wants to reverse this movement. This newspaper, however, is not sanguine that the Andrew Holness Government's recent efforts, including its declaration of public emergencies, suggest that it is pursuing the right strategy to fundamentally shift the crime dynamic in the short to medium term.

Prime Minister Holness has long, and not without some logic, expressed a deep belief that robust growth in the economy - which has expanded by less than one per cent annually for four decades - will translate to a sharp reduction in crime. This, in part, has informed strategies such as the establishment of the Economic Growth Council (EGC), with the mandate to do things to help Jamaica achieve annual growth of at least five per cent annually by 2020.

The establishment of a Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, a supersized construct, with Mr Holness at its helm and most economy-related agencies under its umbrella, is part of this strategy. It gives the prime minister, and those working close to him, direct control of the levers that can have an impact on investment and economic activity.

 

JOBS WILL BE DELIVERED

 

We agree that robust growth will deliver jobs and improve people's quality of life, thus leading to lower crime. What we are not convinced of is the likely efficacy of the Government's choice of emphasis.

It's our view that a vigorous and sustained assault on crime and its handmaiden, corruption, will be a bigger drive of growth than can be achieved, in the short to medium term, by the efforts of Mr Holness' superministry. The rewards, too, are likely to be greater than the range of expansion targets by the EGC's chairman, entrepreneur Michael Lee-Chin.

For instance, numerous studies have concluded that crime snips about five to eight per cent from Jamaica's annual economic output. It is a loss that could be recouped, without any substantial change in policy direction or investment, if the country had tolerable crime levels, with its murder rate, say, in the low double digits.

While the Government has talked a lot about the issue, we have not discerned the application of the necessary energy and thoughtfulness to confront crime and corruption, the latter of which Mr Holness concedes has been a drag on Jamaica's development since Independence and which he pledged to tackle in government. The prime minister, however, has an opportunity for a reset, enhanced by the appointment of Major General Antony Anderson as commissioner of police and Nigel Clarke as finance minister. Both are honest.

General Anderson, having not grown up in the constabulary, if he has the will and support, can confront the old culture of corruption and resistance to change. Dr Clarke strengthens the intellectual quality of the administration, and his closeness to the PM should give Mr Holness greater insulation in pushing against the old guard in his Government and party who would resist reform.

As part of the reset, Mr Holness should consider dismantling the job creation and growth ministry, put the resources back into the portfolios where they make sense, and apply some of the financial resources released by this move to make a big assault on crime.