Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Editorial | Debate worthy of Patterson’s crime commission

Published:Thursday | January 24, 2019 | 12:25 AM

Unfortunately, P.J. Patterson’s proposal for a body similar to the Electoral Commission to provide oversight to Jamaica’s national security apparatus is being subjected to the rules of the old playbook. Rather than the idea being judged for merit and logic, it is either being dismissed out of hand or Mr Patterson is being accused of either attempting to shield his political comrades, or of failing to implement such an arrangement when he was prime minister for more than a dozen years up to 2006.

That is unfortunate. For whatever may have been Mr Patterson’s motive, crime and violence is too serious an issue for Jamaica not to grasp any, and every, opportunity to lift their debate beyond the narrowly partisan political realm, which most of us, at least publicly, declare to be our wish and intent.

And in the event, in his speech to the Lay Magistrates’ Association on Saturday night, he conceded that he was speaking with the “benefit of long reflection from the pavilion and 20/20 hindsight”. Moreover, what he placed on the table is not entirely new. Variations of the idea have been proffered by others in the past, including this newspaper, and elements attempted, although perhaps not sustained, by the Holness administration.

The model is based on the success of the Electoral Commission, over nearly 40 years, in developing in Jamaica a world-class electoral system, which others want to emulate. Before electoral reformation in the mid-1990s, there was little trust, and few people had real confidence. A clear mark of that confidence was our last general election when the Government changed without rancour, with the winning party enjoying a single-seat majority in Parliament.

That was achieved, in part, by taking control of electoral matters and placing it in the hands of an independent body in which political parties have a say, but are not, by themselves, in the majority. It also has become the convention that the proposals of the commission are implemented by Parliament.

Mr Patterson believes that a similar body could work for security, incorporating the Police Service Commission (PSC), the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA), the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), and “myriad related groups”.

What Mr Patterson did not do is say with either precision or clarity what, in his view, should be the remit of this body, except for the fact that it would make recommendations on the extension of states of public emergency, after their initial promulgation by the Government, which is under the current law, can be maintained for up to two weeks. Implied in his remarks, however, are that the matters relating to the promotion and discipline of senior officers, now the responsibility of the PSC; the review of police stations; the functioning, which is the responsibility of the PCOA; and the investigation of the misbehaviour of the police, now the role of INDECOM, would fall to the new commission.

PROPOSED MERGER

This newspaper has previously recommended the merger of the PSC and the PCOA, and their transformation into an agency that would provide broad civilian oversight of the police, but has used as our model the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), which has had great success in helping the Government, across administrations, to hold close to its fiscal reform agenda.

Mr Patterson’s proposal, on the face of it, would go much farther than this in that it would take the formulation of security policy, or that relating to the operation of the police force, out of the hands of the political executive and make it the remit of this commission. There are questions about what the role, if any, of Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ National Security Council and the policy oversight committee established by former national security minister Robert Montague, if, indeed, these still exist.

These would be profound changes, requiring constitutional reform, whose logic should be debated before, or with, the new proposed laws for the Jamaica Constabulary Force.