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Paul Golding | Jamaica ‘a cowbwoy town’

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:19 AMPaul Golding

"Jah-Jah city, Jah-Jah town, dem waan fi turn it in a cowbwoy town now ... (You look, you will know). Jah-Jah city, Jah-Jah town, dem waan fi turn it in a dead man town, y'all." (Capleton et al)

This has not been a good year for the Ministry of National Security, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and, by extension, Jamaica, from a security perspective. The data clearly indicate that we have become a 'cowbwoy town now ...'. Murders are projected to be the highest in recorded history, surpassing the unenviable record of 1,683 in 2009. The murder rate for 2016 was 43.21 per 100,000, ranking third in the world behind El Salvador and Honduras. This year, the rate is expected to increase by 46 per cent to 63 per 100,000.   

As a sidebar, there is a larger regional, hemispheric issue relating to murders, as seven of the top 10 countries with the highest murder rate are in Caribbean and Latin America, with the region firmly controlling the top six spots. Jamaica and Honduras are joined in ignominy by Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador and Guatemala in the top six, while St Kitts & Nevis is in ninth place.

The political response to the surge in murders is the much-touted zones of special operations (ZOSO). The policy and management response must, however, include improved law enforcement and deterrence, social-prevention measures, and targeting gangs. In critiquing ZOSO, former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington has suggested that the constabulary has shifted emphasis from a heavy focus on gangs, to domestic violence.

Murder is, however, only one of the factors in the poor evaluation of the ministry and the JCF. Another area is road safety. The Road Safety Unit (RSU) indicated that Jamaica has been experiencing a fluctuation in road fatalities over the past 15 years, with 2002 having the highest fatalities with 408, and 2012, the lowest with 260. There has been a steady increase since 2012, with 2015 registering the highest fatalities in 12 years with 382 deaths.   

The quantitative data tell only half the story, as the reckless driving and the utter disregard for other road users has plummeted to a new low. The chief perpetrators are taxi drivers who use the filter lane to go to the front of the line impeding traffic that indeed wants to filter, or they will just create an additional lane on the other side of the road, forcing traffic from the opposite direction to take evasive action. Taxi drivers operate 'inna cowbwoy town'. This is incredible and is done with complete disregard, safe in the knowledge that they can amass 100 tickets and await a traffic amnesty that will wipe their records clean. 

The second traffic amnesty is akin to a sale that didn’t live up to its hype, forcing the owners to generate interest by extending the sale. In making the case for an extension, National Security Minister Robert Montague argued, "Therefore, I am going to be asking my colleagues in Cabinet to give consideration for an extension based on the overwhelming amount of calls to the ministry, to Tax Administration Jamaica, and to the police.” All that is needed is the tag line ‘back by popular demand’. Two facts highlight the ineffectiveness of the ticketing system: (1) the amount owed, which is J$2.2 billion, and (2) the period covered September 2010 to July 2017.

Given the plethora of problems that the Ministry of National Security has in executing his job, Minister Montague has not exactly covered himself in glory. Campaign finance is at the heart of the push by National Integrity Action (NIA) to reduce the influence of money on the election process. In Jamaica and all other democracies, individuals and companies purchase influence with an expectation of favours in return, such as lucrative contracts and the like. This leads us to the procurement of 200 used cars for the JCF worth approximately J$427 million to a company of dubious repute and the consequent inability to execute the contract.

The circumstances surrounding this procurement are so farcical suggesting that persons are inept and or corrupt.  Granted that you have to return a favour, the ‘favouree’ must be able to execute. Quoting the Prime Minister (PM) inauguration speech: “We must teach our children that there is no wealth without work and no success without sacrifice. We must remove the belief from our psyche of our children that the only way they can step up in life is not by how hard they work but by who they know." We await the outcome of the investigation surrounding this debacle and the PM’s response. 

Unrelated to the minister of national security but consistent with the general notion that we are operating in a ‘cowbwoy town’ is the character witness testimony that Minister of Culture. Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sports ‘Babsy’ Grange in support of Dr Jephthah Ford. Dr Ford blatantly attempted to pervert the course of justice safe in the knowledge that there was unlikely to be any consequences. There is congruence in the behaviour of Dr Ford and the typical taxi driver; there is an expectation that there will be no consequence for their behaviour.

Minister Grange’s emotional plea for Dr Ford is not unlike the public and emotional testimony from Christopher 'Dudus' Coke supporters, “Dudus has been good to us” and “Jesus die for us we will die for Dudus!” Jamaica a cowbwoy town!

Returning to the security minister’s culpability in adversely impacting crime fighting, the JCF management has also shot itself in the foot. There have been several recent media reports of a high attrition rate in the JCF and the organisation’s struggles to stem the tide. The data presented by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Clifford Blake highlight the high attrition rate. Over the years 2015 and 2016 the JCF recruited 739 new recruits, while 1,058 left for various reasons including resignations, retirement and dismissals. This represents a net loss of 319 staff over two years.

A major cause of this attrition stems from the implementation of the merger of the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) into the JCF. More than 2,000 staff from the ISCF were absorbed into the JCF without the necessary cultural integration that is critical for merger success. Prior to the merger, the ISCF had different working conditions, working hours, training, types of assignments, and there was a skill gap identified by the Merger Task Force.

More fundamentally the JCF and the ISCF regarded one another as competing entities, and based on history, there was a superiority-inferiority complex that prevailed. This merger faux pas has adversely contributed to the high attrition rate that has negatively impacted law enforcement.  

This ‘cowbwoy town’ atmosphere is seriously undermining public trust and confidence in the State and is straining the capacity of the courts, health and education sectors, among others. There can be no economic growth and social development unless this trend is reversed and the atmosphere changed. This is an existential problem in which persons feel hopeless, seeing crime, violence, lawlessness and crude behaviour as genetic.

We have developed a high tolerance for crime, but 2017 is pushing us to a new threshold. This must be the tipping point. The investigative capacity of the JCF must be upgraded to improve clear-up rates for crimes involving guns, drugs and extortion, as well as the dismantling of gangs and crime syndicates to deter violent crime.

Social capital must be built to improve community resilience. However, most important, “Efforts to create a just society must be regarded as a priority. Until people begin to feel that all persons are equal before the law and that they are not being discriminated against socially or economically, crime will continue to flourish.

To this end, the curtailing of white-collar crime is as important as the curbing of gun crime. We must flush out the perpetrators of white-collar crimes with the same zeal and energy that we use to flush out the perpetrators of gun crimes” (Wolfe Report 1991). Without this paradigm shift, Jamaica will continue on the road of being a ‘cowbwoy town’.

- Professor Paul Golding is dean of the College of Business and Management, UTech, Jamaica. Email feedback to and