Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Waiting for Godot (Pt 1)

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A little girl looks through her zinc gate in the inner-city community of McGregor Gully in Kingston on September 29, 2010. Seemingly waiting for Godot, Jamaicans, especially the poor, have been waiting forever for fundamental change. - File

Frank Phipps, Guest Columnist

If recent events serve to enlighten members of parliament, ministers of government, and the judges in the courts on how poor blacks are treated in Jamaica in the name of law and order, Mario Deane would not have died in vain. It is from them that he expected his personal security and to them we look for peace and prosperity.

To our shock and horror, we have come to realise that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the principal agent of the State entrusted to enforce the rule of law and protect us against crime and violence, is itself now involved in what it was sworn to prevent. The media are constantly reporting allegations of corruption and extrajudicial killings by the police that worsen lawlessness.

Although there has always been some mechanism to ensure that the JCF is investigated and brought to justice whenever it acts ultra vires, between 1999 and 2010, approximately 2,000 persons were killed by the police. The number increased annually, from 65 in 1999 to 286 in 2010. This rise in police misconduct had reached such an alarming level that something had to be done about it. Cleaning up the police force is a must as part of any plan to uphold the rule of law for peace to prevail.

So it is that INDECOM was established in 2009 by the Independent Commission of Investigations Act as a commission of Parliament to undertake investigations concerning actions by members of the security forces and other agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of the rights of persons.

The introduction of INDECOM is not an end to the process for peace, and without peace, there will be no prosperity. It must be recognised, however, that in the fight against crime, the JCF is seriously handicapped by the unfriendly society in which it operates (not without reason); the frequent tragic events in which the police are involved generate unconcealed hostility towards them, making their job so much harder. While waiting for divine intervention, the police and the whole society could well do with a moral rearmament for peace to prosper. Anyway, there will always be a price tag for whatever is tried.

We get what we pay for

The JCF provides only one of the services the State must guarantee as a basic human right for all persons in Jamaica, especially for the socially disadvantaged. It is no secret that underfunding is common among most, if not all, the agencies of the State with responsibility for citizens' rights and welfare. Their poor condition frustrates the efforts to pursue a path for peace and prosperity as the ultimate objective of government. This underlying situation invites a general question: Can we do better with what we have to run the country with its many and varied problems in a weak economy?

The president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, in the Sunday Observer (July 13, 2014), identified what he says is required for better results in governance of the country:

"A critical area of governance that we need to get right is the re-establishment of the rule of law. The three basic components are minimisation of crime; timely, fair and effective justice; and elimination of corruption."

Identifying a problem is half the solution; dealing with it is the answer.

The costs for ridding Jamaica of crime and other barriers to prosperity are crucial for dealing with our problems. Maybe we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope where we see how our limited resources are used to maintain the myriad public bodies of government, spending too much on too many of them without getting the desired results. Whenever there are new problems, we react by creating new agencies that will also require funding.

What we fail to see is the bigger picture showing the urgent need for funding to relieve the degrading and demoralising poverty in which many of our people exist without hope and to guarantee their rights even in their poverty. How can anyone expect to live in peace in a country with those conditions, while a financial institution can boast a net profit increase by 29 per cent for the third quarter to June 2014? Super-profits and super-poverty breed crime and insecurity.

Wanted: a more discerning government

We pay for Central Government with 20 ministers and departments of government to run the country, assisted by ministers of state. They share public administration with 14 local governments - one for each parish, except St Catherine with two, and Kingston and St Andrew joined as one to form the KSAC. The Gleaner wrote in its editorial July 7, 2014:

"The KSAC is normally a lazy, effete and mostly somnolent institution. In some respects, it's more tolerable that way. For when its leaders are awake, it is largely to remind citizens of its incompetence."

Government is committed to restructure local government without hearing from the people whether they should be abolished altogether as a way to reduce the costs of administration, a major barrier to prosperity.

In addition to the 14 local governments and six commissions of Parliament as ombudsmen, there are 191 active public bodies and innumerable consultants, all to partake with central Government to manage a country of less than three million people, but we still don't get it right. The persistent demands for peace and security, and a better way of life for all the people remain largely unsatisfied.

The Gleaner, April 13, 2013, reported the level of discontent:

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition ... said it deplored the poor management and lack of accountability that continue to be shown by "too many of the nation's elected representatives, ministries, departments and agencies". "We find it totally unacceptable that in this time of hardship, public officials continue to disregard their duty to ensure lawful, prudent and transparent management of the nation's resources." ... "Sloppiness and corruption in the management of the country's affairs" have been the major contributors to Jamaica's declining fortunes and erosion of trust and confidence in public officials over the past several decades.

Poor management and lack of accountability can only be dealt with by correcting the way in which resources are allocated and disbursed to run the Government and its surrogate agencies in a lawful and meaningful way.

See Part Two next week.

Frank Phipps is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.