Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Martin Henry | Cutting crime, boosting growth

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica is paradise. A bleeding paradise awash with tears. But paradise nonetheless.

At least that's what a former Colombian soldier now heading a major company in Jamaica thinks our country is. From his experience living here, Mauricio Pulido, CEO of Texaco Jamaica, says that this is still one of the best places on Earth to live. "You live in paradise. Jamaica is beautiful. Jamaica is a paradise." But "the security situation that you are now in, yes, it is terrible. It is something that needs to be addressed fast."

You might think Mr Pulido was just buttering up his audience at a GSAT awards ceremony in crime-ridden, tourist-loved Montego Bay. But others coming in and looking in from the outside are singing the same Sankey. A colleague of mine, a very happily naturalised Jamaican (originally American), is struck by the energy and warmth of his adopted country every time he comes home. I was struck, almost down, when I bucked up a video on YouTube talking up '10 Countries where you can Start a New Life'. The video, with 1.5 million views, is posted by alux.com, "where future billionaires come to get inspired" and is aimed at an American audience. Up there with Singapore, Monaco, The Netherlands, and Hong Kong is Jamaica. But crime and corruption are drawbacks.

Finance Minister Audley Shaw temporarily laid aside his worries about the media sniping over his cell phone bill to crow that the country had grown by all of 1.3 per cent in financial year 2016-2017 and is set to achieve 2 per cent growth this year, 2017-2018. The IMF rep in Jamaica, Constant Lonkeng Ngouana, said, "All the stars seem aligned for a sustained economic growth in Jamaica, building on the hard-won macroeconomic stability." But "crime is the elephant in the room" that is holding back growth in Jamaica.

Crime is chilling business confidence, the latest Don Anderson survey of business and consumer confidence is telling us. Half the firms surveyed see crime as the top problem facing the nation, a "critical concern" for business.

Speaking in the Senate debate on the Zones of Special Operations Bill, after having consulted with the leaderships of several private-sector umbrella organisations, business leader Don Wehby said that the sector was prepared to throw its weight behind special operations. "It is time, and I speak on behalf of the private sector, for the private sector, of which I am a member, to double down. Private sector, we need to put our money where our mouth is."

Crime reduction, the JMA projects, could lead to a 50 per cent increase in the contribution that the manufacturing sector makes to the country's GDP.

 

Destroying lives

 

But we talk too much about crime in economic terms. Crime is destroying lives and real people's health and well-being and releasing dark rivers of grief and fear across paradise. Dr Alfred Dawes wrote it in 'Beyond the murders: the realities of how crime is killing us', in the Health section of The Gleaner last Wednesday (July 12). We count the murders but not the hundreds more who are injured, Dawes said. "The wounded suffer devastating injuries ... . They have to live with the emotional and physical pain of injuries."

Regular patients are pushed back by trauma cases, staff are burnt out, and KPH is just recovering from being overwhelmed with trauma cases so much so that it was transferring patients out rather than accepting transfers as the country's leading specialist-care hospital.

"With the deluge of trauma patients, the hospital has essentially been converted into a military hospital caring for the wounded, with all other emergency and urgent patients relegated to second-tier status," wrote Dr Dawes.

But at last here comes a prime minister who says that he is making the safety and security of all Jamaicans the number-one priority of the Government and is backing that up with a fast-tracked Zones of Special Operations law that will allow interventions in high-crime hotspots to clear, hold, and build. "I want it to be clearly understood, Prime Minister Holness said, "that the economic programme, the education programme, the energy programme, all the good things we are doing rest upon a solid security programme.

"Security comes first because if the people are not secure, they can't invest. If they are not secure, they can't go to school. If people are stealing their agricultural output, farmers are going to get frustrated and give up. So priority number one for Jamaica at this time is to ensure the safety and security of the Jamaican citizens," the prime minister told a meeting of his party's Area Two Council in crime-ridden heritage site Spanish Town, former capital where the Emancipation Proclamation was read in 1834.

And the money is there in the Budget and in the special funds earmarked for 'development' of various kinds. Since crime affects every portfolio, a mere 2.5 per cent across-the-board slice of this year's $670-billion Budget would immediately free up $16.75 billion for the clear, hold, build of anti-crime special operations. Match this with 'contributions' from the range of special funds and we're well on our way.

Texaco's Mauricio Pulido sees the failure to execute plans as a major Jamaican shortcoming. With the crime trajectory, God help us if this Government goes soft on the Zones of Special Operations plan.

There have been legitimate concerns about the potential for the abuse of special powers and about the education of citizens on the Zones of Special Operations plan. "Many still in the dark about Zones of Special Operations Bill", reported RJR's online news last Tuesday.

The start of action on the ground will provide the best opportunity for ongoing public education. And the media could repurpose some of their strenuous efforts in probing ministers' phone bills to running its own public education campaign complementary to anything the Government does. With 31 amendments, most of which came from the watchdog parliamentary Opposition, we can have some assurance of safeguards being structured into the Zones of Special Operations law.

The law is now posted online and is written in plain enough language. Leaders of various kinds who can serve as teachers and ordinary citizens themselves should take the trouble to educate themselves about the provisions of the law and not simply sit back and wait for public education to take place.

The act empowers the prime minister in council to declare an area a zone of special operations for up to 60 days under circumstances where there is rampant criminality, gang warfare, escalating violence and murder, and threat to the rule of law and to public order. Extensions to the period are done first by the National Security Council for up to 60 more days and then by the House of Representatives.

 

Protect rights and freedoms

 

The law is intended to uphold the rule of law, while protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, and to support law-enforcement activities to rid a zone of illegal weapons, ammunition, and other contraband.

The act permits searches without a warrant, but very importantly, goes on to promote social and economic development in a zone through the efforts of various government agencies and civil society.

Operations will be under the control of a joint command of police and army at the level of senior officers and a 10-member Zone Committee. The joint command officers are to be trained in human rights, the use of force, and in community-development initiatives.

That linchpin Social Intervention Committee of no fewer than 10 persons to be established within five days of the declaration of a zone, will have on it the MP; the custos; the mayor; the permanent secretaries in the social security, national security, and economic growth ministries or their nominees; an attorney-at-law; reps drawn from a range of government 'development' and service agencies; and citizen reps. If anything, the committee, charged with developing a sustainable development plan for the zone, may be too democratically cumbersome to get much done.

Cordon and curfew, search and seizure, detentions and treatment of persons arrested or detained are formally prescribed under the law. A person to be arrested or detained shall "forthwith be taken before a justice of the peace who shall determine whether or not there are reasonable grounds for the arrest or detention". A person can only be remanded in custody for 24 hours before having to be taken before a Parish Court judge. The law presumes a fantastic improvement in judicial efficiency, a presumption that is going to be part of its operational weakness. Accountability provisions for operatives are built into the law.

If we can get crime down and growth with equity up, paradise will get considerably better.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.