Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Whether gunmen or Government, we're screwed either way

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 2:00 AM

Our loving leaders are handing out gifts for Valentine's like card sharks dealing poker. Just as we're told it's safe to go out again by a 'crime plan' presentation that would've made my old Crown and Anchor man 'Boot Heel' proud, here came Government's estimates of income/expenditure for 2017-2018.

Tired, stretched-to-the-limit, broken-down, beaten-up Jamaican taxpayers must now find $62.2 billion (or 15 per cent) more in OLD TAXES than in 2017-18. Having stretched all anticipated 'earnings' beyond reasonable limits, 'revenue and loan receipts' are budgeted at $690 billion, $121 billion more than 2016-2017's estimated collections of $569 billion.

There's worse. Despite these elastic income expectations, Jamaica, even under IMF restraint, finds itself incapable of restricting spending to less than $710 billion. Guess what's coming? Ernie Smith has a tax bill to add to Elsaida's hubby's expenses!

"Friday evening one more time,

joy and confusion reigneth.

Ben Johnson jus' ga'an; soon come.

In di fat lef' pocket

is di money from last week's sweat an' tears

jus come; soon ga'an!

An' di Crown an' Anchor man

stan up a di gate a mi workplace

wid di dice inna 'im han'

an' a wicked old grin pon him long face."

With friends like that, who needs enemas? Imagine what we'd be facing on the expenditure side if IMF wasn't around. But the important issue in this faux budgetary process isn't the unspeakable taxation package, but the process itself. ONCE AGAIN, a finance minister will ambush us with these taxes without any input from those who'll bear the burden; and without any representation on behalf of taxpayers despite 63 MPs having been elected for that sole purpose.

How it works is:

- Finance ministry technocrats collect budgetary requests from their public-service counterparts then meet in secrecy to collate the information and allocate 'budgets' to each ministry;

- The 'budget' is taken to Cabinet, where more secret (this time ministerial) deliberations are carried out before final decisions are taken to this shameful, rubber-stamp Parliament as fait accompli.

THIS IS LEGITIMISED ROBBERY. What more will it take before Jamaicans flood streets in protest? On Thursday, the finance minister was asked to address rumours that NHT would be raided for budgetary support. He replied, "Surely you don't expect me to make my Budget speech to you?"

Jeez, Louise! It's become normalised that citizens must be seen but not heard while Government sneaks up and stabs us in the back. Our input, at twice-per-decade election farces, is to decide who should rob us legally without consultation or representation!

Until we insist on a constitutionally restructured nation that includes constitutional limits to borrowing/spending and forbids new taxation by ministerial decree, we'll continue to be treated like slaves begging for scraps from Master's table.

This brings me (again) to the vexed issue of crime.

The loud, wind-sucking noise that swept across Jamaica on Wednesday evening was Jamaicans' collective gasp as Government unveiled its new 'crime plan'. From as far back as December 1, we'd been promised an integrated crime plan by Young Andrew speaking at Rocky Meade's swearing-in. Then, we were assured that the National Security Council (NSC) was finalising a "comprehensive action plan". He said:

"Government has an unremitting resolve to address crime ... ."

In 2017, murders have increased by 35 per cent and Jamaica's fear is palpable. But citizens held strain because the NSC was on it and Bobby 'Nephew' Montague bought two ships and second-hand police cars.

Back then, Young Andrew described the coming plan as "integrated" and identified the areas to be "carefully" examined as "deployment, mobility, investigative capacity, procedures, and legislation". In his New Year message, Young Andrew waxed lyrical about the crime plan. He identified violent crime, "especially murders", as "the greatest threat to our economic independence" and assured Jamaica that in 2017, Government's crime plan would make a significant dent in murders.

 

SECURE JAMAICA

 

"... The Jamaican people ... now ... expect firm and decisive action in breaking the neck of the crime monster once and for all ... .

"We have a plan to secure Jamaica, and in the coming weeks, aspects of the plan that can be made public will be disclosed. We'll be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it's absent and to separate criminals from communities they've captured.

"Under this framework, zones where the security forces ... will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high-crime areas, including extensive searches for guns, contrabands and criminals will be created ... .

"There'll be restructuring of the security forces to increase operation and administrative focus on the western parishes ... .

"We are confident that this year will be the breakthrough year in bringing the crime monster under control while respecting the human rights of every citizen."

Whew! no human rights to be breached. Never mind that the references to "zones"; "long-term operations in high-crime areas" (curfews?) and others smacked of the Booklist Boyne Solution. Jamaicans waited for THE plan as Numbeo.com, the world's largest database of user - contributed data about countries, rated Jamaica as having the 14th highest crime rate (2016) among 125 countries. In 2017, Numbeo rates Jamaica with the 13th highest crime rate. The 35 per cent murder increase (2017) comes on top of 2016's 11 per cent increase.

Finally, on Wednesday, Young Andrew, looking very much like an NFL quarterback breaking a lengthy huddle flanked by Wide receiver "Nephew" Montague, Tight End Marlene 'Malaprop', centre Newandiffrent Grant, and right guard Rocky Balboa, made his grand announcement. It sounded more like a request for a timeout.

Apparently, zero tolerance is the new buzzword. We'll deal with abusive husbands and sexual offenders harshly. If a man should dare lift his hand to a woman, a policeman will appear and remove him from the house before the blow falls. DWL!

For THIS, we've been holding our breaths for over a year? You gotta be kidding? But, no. it's no joke. Remember Young Andrew did promise, on New Year's Day, to "separate criminals from communities they have captured". Wednesday's theme simulated a campaign against domestic violence, but that's obviously a smokescreen hiding the real plan.

In Q&A, Ms Malaprop was extraordinarily careful to insist that police would act within existing laws, but you KNOW I'm going to tell you nothing is as it appears.

The REAL lynchpin of this 'new' crime plan is preventative detention, which is obviously a strategy to reintroduce indefinite detention under a superior disguise. Once police have 'reasonable grounds to suspect' (LOL) a crime is 'about to be committed' (money intended for computer purchases spent on crystal balls?), they can swoop down on 'captured communities', scrape and lock up 'suspected' young men. Then, police will ask a JP to extend the detention and JP, rubber stamp in hand, is unlikely to refuse.

 

IT WON'T WORK

 

Don't be fooled by the 'domestic violence' facade. Young Andrew AND Ms Malaprop admitted in Q&A that 'preventative detention' is to apply to ALL CRIMES. This is the Government's way of applying the Booklist Boyne Solution through the back door, oblivious to the eternal truth (with apologies to Billy Shakespeare) that crap by any other name smells as stink. On the rare occasion Ms Malaprop was allowed to answer questions without the PM's "help", she used words like "cooling-off period" (repeated by the PM) and "no need for court". What do YOU think this means?

"Friday evening one more time

haffe pay Aunt Joyce fi di lunch las' week

Mus pay dis day!

An' mi have a smalls

fi di few hot beer dung a Sandy's bar

Mus pay dis day!

An', is always on dis date,

Pansy forward fi har water rate

an at least an eyeglass man

mi haffe put inna she han'..."

Lord, deliver us! On top of the reality facing us every week, Jamaicans must find $20b in new taxes ($82b more than last year overall) to pay for another period of excessive police brutalisation of poor citizens under the guise of 'zero tolerance'? This IS the Booklist Boyne Solution. It won't work.

This monster we spent 40 years nurturing can't be killed overnight. This Jamaican crime monster is like a multi-headed Hydra. Booklist Boyne's Solution seeks to cut off the monster's head, but it only ensures that five more grow in its place. Jamaica's crime monster must be attacked at its root, and our most effective weapons are commitment and patience.

Nobody mentioned one piece of intelligence gathering or analysing applications; or improved police training (or importing of trained officers); or 'investigative capacity'; or reducing police corruption. THAT's how you try to save some lives now. NOT ONE LIFE will be saved by Booklist Boyne's Solution. Many more will have to die while we sweep up and detain dozens of small fry in inhuman conditions for weeks. Big Fish, often tipped off in advance, will still roam free.

I can't believe Pearnel Charles or Olivia 'Babsy' Grange helped create this crime plan. How quickly we forget 1976!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.