Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Editorial | JDF must continue the candour

Published:Tuesday | October 20, 2020 | 12:07 AM

We welcome the relative candour with which the authorities, including the army itself, have spoken about last week’s alleged attempt by two soldiers to use a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) bus to smuggle marijuana, leading to a chase and gunbattle with the police. The incident, happily, ended without death or injury.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Dameon Creary, acting colonel general staff at the army’s headquarters, four other soldiers are being investigated over the incident. The army, perhaps, is just being careful. Yet, an expanded probe may suggest that it is concerned that a drug-running cell may have existed within its ranks.

This newspaper hopes not, for it would be another chip at the reputation of one of the few institutions in which Jamaicans continue to repose a significant level of trust.

The sense of people’s view of the JDF is contained, as this newspaper has noted before, in Vanderbilt University’s 2018-19 survey on attitudes to democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sixty-five per cent of Jamaicans said they would tolerate a military coup if the takeover was to suppress crime. Over 58 per cent would support a putsch to curb corruption. These were the highest level of support for a possible removal of civilian government in the 18 countries surveyed. Other surveys support those findings.

While it has slipped in recent years, the army has consistently ranked ahead of most other institutions, including the police, political parties, the Parliament and the judiciary. On a Transparency International barometer of corruption in the Americas, the JDF, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most corrupt, was ranked 2.4. Politicians were the outliers at 4.5. Six years ago, measuring support for institutions on a scale of 1-100, with the 100 mark representing the highest level of support, the JDF was at 63.6. Political parties were at 28.1, Parliament at 31.9, and the police 38.3.

BELIEVE IN THE JDF

The clear implication of these findings is that Jamaicans not only believe the JDF to be competent, with the ability to manage the country, but that it is clean. Happily, the leadership of the JDF has consistently declared their commitment to democracy and civilian government.

Nonetheless, they would be aware that trust cannot be indefinitely sustained on the basis of past good behaviour or because of the absence of information about misdemeanours. That, we expect, is well appreciated by the JDF’s brass. Which is why the public hopes that the seeming transparency with which the army has so far approached the St Elizabeth incident will continue and that they will be as forthcoming with other issues.

The matter of the missing guns from Up Park Camp, the JDF’s headquarters, is a case in point. One Saturday evening in February, it dribbled out, and was subsequently confirmed by the army that movements at the base were restricted because guns, apparently two high-powered rifles, were discovered missing during an inventory. In June, the chief of defence staff, Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, disclosed in a radio interview that two soldiers would soon face disciplinary hearings on the matter.

However, who these soldiers were, their ranks, the charges they faced, or the type of hearing to which they would be subjected was not disclosed. However, at last week’s press briefing on the drug-smuggling matter, at which he highlighted the role of the JDF’s internal systems in thwarting the plot, Lieutenant Colonel Creary, responding to a reporter’s question, revealed that three soldiers had been “recently” discharged in the case of the missing weapons. Nothing further was offered.

We appreciate the military code of justice employed by the JDF, but we are also aware of the difference between the administrative and judicial resolution of issues, depending on where on the scale of wrongs the offences fall. The loss of high-powered weapons could be a matter of negligence, which is bad. It would be worse, and criminal, if they were stolen. That latter would be expected to lead to a court martial. Either way, the public has a reasonable expectation to be informed.

This, of course, is not the only issue about which the JDF has not been transparent. Its stalling with information over Keith Clarke’s killing by soldiers at his home in 2010, ostensibly during a search for the fugitive hard case, Christopher Coke, is a case in point. So, too, was its prevarications over the use of mortars in Tivoli Gardens during a related operation to flush out Coke’s militia.

Jamaicans take pride in the JDF and its image as a professionally run institution. This breeze of transparency is welcome. It will, hopefully, continue to blow, starting with more details about the missing rifles.