Garnett Roper | Anarchy, impunity and unaccountability
In each of the last two months, The Gleaner has carried an editorial on the Jamaica's high murder toll, which is expected to exceed 1,600 in 2017. This is the highest in the last seven years.
The editorials have been focused on what it calls anarchy and impunity. The Gleaner uses the terms interchangeably. The impunity with which criminal gunmen carry out their dastardly murders in broad daylight, in public view, and along public thoroughfares is proof of the anarchy that has overrun the society.
The analysis by The Gleaner is compelling. It has also included on its front page a montage of the victims of the murderous rampage. It has pointed out that up to two Wednesdays ago, 9,937 murders had been committed in Jamaica over the last seven years. In conveying the sense of crisis for which it is calling on Prime Minister Holness to act by building a broad consensus, including the political Opposition.
The Gleaner argues that Jamaica is experiencing the equivalent of two Tivolis per month. It, therefore, recommended to the PM that he set up something that is roughly the equivalent of EPOC (on the economic side) to oversee the responses to Jamaica's murder rate. It also called once again for the resumption of the Vale Royal Talks.
I commend The Gleaner for its insight and persistence, but I would also like to add, or offer, a correction by adding to the double cocktail of anarchy and impunity the words chaos and unaccountability. What The Gleaner described is impunity, but not quite anarchy. Anarchy implies that there is no government, and The Gleaner betrays its faith in that fact by appealing to the PM to build a broad consensus. Anarchy is chaos, but not all chaos is anarchy. What we have is the impunity that causes chaos, but that chaos may be by design.
For example, for more than two generations, there has been sustained violence in the inner cities of Kingston and
St Andrew. One of the outcomes of that is that there are large tracts of land in the city of Kingston and parts of southern St Andrew that are vacant and are now available for sale to the very classes that once owned those parcels of land before the rising middle, comprising mostly public-sector employees, bought them in the 1960s and 1970s.
The real-estate bonanza that will soon allow residential waterfront properties to dot
the roadway from Harbour View to downtown Kingston is the unintended consequence of the upsurge in violence in those places that has lasted two generations. Or was it intended?
The disorder that one sees provides cover for other transactions and sometimes is the consequence of those transactions. Is there a hidden hand? You tell me! But I wonder if there is a thread that connects the assassinations of the Ramdial son and father, the killing of Waldo and King Evil, and the nail technician in Montego Bay?
Just because the patterns and connections are not readily discernible does not mean that they do not exist. The one thing about Jamaica's murder rate is that it is not random. That ought to have been the lesson of Tivoli 2010. The removal of a single drug kingpin who pleaded guilty to racketeering in the USA, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, resulted in a precipitous fall in the rates of murder in Jamaica. What we have is manufactured and guided chaos.
The current tenants of Jamaica House do not hold themselves accountable for the judicious use of taxpayers' resources, and they do not hold each other accountable. It has always been a hard sell to get members of sitting administrations to resign as public acknowledgement of misfeasance or malfeasance.
Even so, it is absolutely remarkable that Robert Montague has managed to keep his job as the minister of national security. None of the big-ticket items has been managed well. He has survived a scathing OCG report that fingered him in the bushing scandal, the scandal in the FLA, and the skyrocketing of the murder rate by 25 per cent in 2017.
Derrick Smith was fired as MNS when the incremental movement in the murder rate was in single digits. Even if Minister Montague could be forgiven for that, despite warnings about how ill-advised the used-car police policy is and the impracticality of the contract awarded to O'Brien's International to procure 200 used cars for the JCF, the minister persisted. Six months after the end of contract date, only 30 cars have been delivered to the police.
Not only has the minister not been relieved of the portfolio responsibility, he has been allowed to do a second contract to parties not unrelated to the first and not without padding. Instead of more public scrutiny, the minister has been able to operate with less. This is what I mean by guided chaos.
When there was no Cabinet reshuffle, given the clear signs of incompetence on the part of some members, the argument was proffered that PM Holness was hostage because of the slim parliamentary majority. What is the argument now for not firing Montague?
Beyond that, PM Holness has not been a shining example of accountability to the public. The NIDS bill was rammed through Parliament without consultation with the broad mass of the people. There are daily reports of the impunity of gunmen, and to date, there has been no comprehensive crime plan. ZOSO is demonstrably a public-relations gesture.
The PM has appeared unmoved by the rising rate of murder. There is a collective trauma depressing the Jamaican psyche. The very fact that the call for the Vale Royal Talks has had to be renewed by The Gleaner is the sign of this imperviousness to public opinion and to a national crisis that is not going away. Perhaps none of us should be surprised by the impunity of gunmen. They may well be learning from the top.