Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Peter Bunting: game changer of 2014

Published:Sunday | January 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Ian Boyne
Bunting
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Ian Boyne

It is not just that the statistics make the unassailable point that Peter Bunting was an outstanding minister of government in 2014. That approximately 200 fewer precious and priceless lives were spared under his watch in this murderous country last year, and that all major crimes are down 17 per cent would be justification enough.

For those hypocrites who would say this is no achievement of his, they would be the first ones to say he should go if we had more murders this year and crime generally had increased. We have to be consistent. If he deserves no commendation when crime goes down (thats operational), then he deserves no blame when it rises.

Bunting ended his year with rape, shooting and aggravated assault declining by 17 per cent and, also, surprisingly acquisitory crimes such as break-ins, larceny and robbery also declining by approximately 12 per cent between January and November last year compared with the corresponding period in 2013. But also noteworthy and this could not have escaped our very powerful and vocal human rights lobby Bunting has managed to pull this off while, under his tenure, reducing that vexed and contentious area of fatal police shootings by 50 per cent from 217 in the January-November 2013 period to 108 in the comparable period in 2014; a point which the aggressive INDECOM has celebrated. I am not sure that Jamaicans for Justice or the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition have commented on it. I might have missed it.

But it is not just because the facts actually establish Peter Bunting as a high achiever in his portfolio. It is because he brings to his job a game changing perspective and takes a holistic approach to policing which he calls smart policing, a combination of hard and soft elements of policing. Peter Bunting as minister of national security is a living embodiment of the best scholarship which has been done in criminology. Go and read the extensive work of our leading criminologist, Professor Anthony Harriott, and then observe what Peter Bunting is doing on a day-to-day basis and you will see what I mean.

AVANT-GARDE STRATEGIES

Buntings strategies and actions are avant-garde and game changing. He takes the holistic approach which human rights activists, progressives and even conservatives have been calling for. Hear him: When families collapse, schools fail to educate, the economy does not produce enough jobs, we turn to law enforcement to save us. Nothing could be more wrong. It gives law enforcement an impossible burden. It takes all of us off the hook. The task is to launch a strategy that engages the energies, passion and commitment of all. That is exactly what he has been doing.

He has launched his Unite for Change initiative which is active in communities. He has forged a very strong relationship with churches which, contrary to what ignorant people say, are very active in their communities and are making an impact of peoples lives on the ground. Buntings modus operandi has been to operate at the grass-roots levels and to forge links with organisations with influence at the base to achieve behavior change. There are football matches, cookouts, outside church services, corner reasonings, Half-Way Tree bus park visits, etc. He has brought a new forcefulness and expanded meaning to community policing. And he has talked seriously about dropping police force for police service. It is not just semantics: For him it represents a deep philosophical paradigm shift.

I recently came away from a television interview with him impressed with this mans vision for security, his deep thoughtfulness and his quiet competence. He stunned me in that recent interview when he told me he had reduced curfews from thousands a year to just 14 last year. And he did that while reducing crime, which is a telling point to a long-time hard-policing advocate and security hawk like me. I am almost persuaded, Apostle of Peace St Peter!

FOCUS TACTICS

Bunting has been taking policemen out of their military fatigues and battlefield paraphernalia, making their presence more community-friendly and welcoming. The path we are embarking upon is not one that will give a quick fix or earn kudos in an election cycle, but I am convinced it is the correct one, Bunting said in his sectorial address last year. It is based on the premise that law enforcement activities by themselves do not provide an adequate response to the problem. Sustainable reductions in crime and violence will, therefore, require a deliberate and focused strategy that articulates various law enforcement, justice and social development programmes at the national, community and individual levels to address causal factors.

Last year, Bunting adopted the health epidemic approach to crime fighting based on research done overseas. The main elements which criminologists are now applying to crime fighting is interruption of transmission, prevention of future spread and changing group norms. Bunting has not gone foolishly soft on crime. At the same time that he is doing peace marches in communities and talking about divine intervention, he is sending out aerial searches for gangsters, reclaiming bus and taxi parks from gangs and he has pushed through a tough anti-gang legislation and is actively seeking to dismantle gangs and lock away kingpins. His approach is neither exclusively hard nor soft policing it is smart policing, a combination of both. And it is succeeding.

He must move aggressively to smash garrison control, including the garrisons of his own party. He must strengthen anti-corruption efforts, which the merger of MOCA and the Anti-Corruption Branch last year should help in achieving. And his merging of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Island Special Constabulary Force was a major achievement, freeing up thousands of police personnel for front-line duty and eliminating unnecessary administrative diversion.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Bunting has brought his sharp business skills to his portfolio to produce the results he has in 2014. More than 600 lottery scamming arrests were made last year under a new law passed (there is a big connection between crime and lottery scamming). There is a lot more Bunting and his ministry need to do. He hasnt solved all the security problems and crime is still not at a tolerable level. But Bunting is on the right track.

His keen sense that our culture has to be changed and that security is everybodys business shows his head is in the right place. His open challenge to our dancehall deejays and his willingness to publicly take on that criminal deejay Vybz Kartel is highly commendable. His pubic campaign against the informer fi dead culture in the dancehall and at the grass roots must also be lauded.

But for Bunting to succeed, he needs at least two other ministers to do well, and in my mind, they have. Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips must share honors for his steadying the economic ship and for his far-sightedness and focus on getting the economic fundamentals right. Many are disingenuous and downright dishonest when they criticise him.

ECONOMIC ACHIEVEMENTS

In an historically underperforming economy like ours, we cant underestimate the economic achievements under Phillips stewardship. The passing of six tough IMF tests is nothing to sniff at. Under this mans tenure, we had a balanced budget for the first time in nearly two decades. Our bond placement was vastly oversubscribed on the international market last year and our NIR is at US$2 billion. The economy is growing, unemployment is down, inflation is single-digit and our balance of payments and trade deficits are declining. These are solid achievements.

I have spoken against neo-liberalism more than any other person in Jamaica. Our IMF prescriptions are not sufficient for growth and development. But bitter medicine is necessary for growth, so lets not foolishly or disingenuously separate them.

Another man who has done well at the wicket is Education Minster Ronnie Thwaites. His achievements in that sector since taking over could fill a whole column. No wonder the recent Don Anderson polls showed him as our top-rated minister in the Cabinet. His sharp communication skills, commanding intellect and his ability to make connections between our everyday cultural practices and our educational underdevelopment is second to none.

Bunting, Phillips and Thwaites were super performers in 2014. Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.