Tue | Nov 12, 2019

Editorial | Put the brakes on extortion

Published:Saturday | November 9, 2019 | 12:27 AM

We have been nibbling around the edges of the extortion debate without any meaningful input from our political leaders and it is time that the country hear where they stand on this matter, which is threatening to suck the lifeblood out of the aggregate economy.

Extortion in areas where crime is pervasive has been allowed to mushroom and grow. This form of corruption has become a huge blot on the face of the country. Can anyone doubt that its flourishing has been aided and abetted by higher ups and people of influence?

When former Contractor General Dirk Harrison fired his recent salvo citing politicians, police personnel and dons as fleecing businesses, not a squeak was heard from the usually vocal political class. Indeed, their silence to his damning claim was deafening.

Did the political directorate call an urgent meeting to get to the bottom of these allegations? Not that we are aware of. Neither was there a press conference to declare clean hands.

The silence of the Government and Opposition on the matter of extortion can only weaken further the social contract between the Government and its citizens.

Police corruption, as cited by Mr. Harrison and whispered among citizens, can only compound the crime situation, especially in hotspots where dons and police are supposedly competing for the corruption currency.

The master builders are adding more heft to the debate by demonstrating how criminal activity is preventing them from participating in economic activity. Traditionally, the construction sector is one of those prone to interference from thugs. Mr. Lenworth Kelly, president of the Incorporated Masterbuilders’ Association, cited the security factor which bidders must take into account when competing for jobs.

He told The Gleaner that many of his members do not even bother to participate in the biding process for they have to bear considerable burden to keep their site and workers safe which then renders them uncompetitive in the scheme of things.

The impact of crime and extortion on the commercial life of the nation’s capital has been substantial. We need look no further than sections of Mountain View Avenue, Red Hills Road and Slipe Road, once thriving business districts which have been crippled by extortion and violence and are now shuttered for good.

GRAVE YARDS LITTERED WITH BONES

Even more egregious is the fact that grave yards are littered with the bones of many business persons who tried to resist these thugs who wanted to illegally extract from them the fruits of their labour, which is euphemistically referred to as “protection” money.

It’s a situation where thugs are seeking to fill the yawning security vacuum left by the police whose job to serve and protect is compromised by their own alleged participation in raiding the pockets of business people.

Mr. Harrison’s hints and the moaning of private sector are not enough to end this scourge. To properly classify this corrupt activity, there needs to be a sense of where it is taking place, the people involved and the extent of the damage to the country. We believe it will take creative measures by the chambers of commerce, and various private sector organisations and civic groups to call out these extortionists and their enablers and put a halt to this corrupt practice.

Extortion is not a standalone issue that will simply go away, if it is ignored. It affects our democracy, our peace and stability, and our development goals.