Mon | Dec 10, 2018

Mark Wignall | Gunmen on attack for a reason

Published:Sunday | September 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A toddler pushes a toy truck up an embankment in the community of Top Temple in Rockfort, St Andrew, in July. Sections of east Kingston have been racked by violence for much of 2018.
Howard Mitchell, president of the PSOJ.
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It's not a surprise that our country is still infested with many young and not-so-young men who are prepared now and will be so prepared tomorrow to use their firepower on sections of the society.

The gunfire between members of the security forces and fighters in Swallowfield is not something about which we should be surprised. A few months ago, gunmen openly took on the security forces in areas close to Mountain View. What is not known to the public is the extent to which one area erupting has an impact on another area.

While I am unaware that any key member of the JCF or the JDF has any pointed information on the extent to which shootings in one area lead to shootings in areas far afield, what I have picked up over many years is that gunmen who are 'inactive', that is, not having any war elements in the community that they need to deal with urgently, are prone to action once another area has broken out into what we now know as 'war'.

For example, in many areas of Rockfort, there are youngsters with guns fighting for a cause they know nothing about. All that empowers them is the possession of guns and ammunition and the knowledge that if they do not fire first, all over by their sides will be dead.

Many of us have the tendency to lock ourselves away from involvement in the pains of this society, and we make that choice because it keeps us on the safe side of sanity. Do we seriously believe that every time there is a report that in an interaction between a police party and a group of gunmen where one person who is not a policeman dies, he is totally innocent?

"It is a fact that once a set of gunmen from one community hear about a shooting incident in another community, which places the police under pressure, it encourages wrongdoers in other areas to take on the police," said a superintendent of police who wanted to be nameless.

"Listen, it's simple. One businessman hears that your product is better than his own and he has, basically, two options. He either becomes better than you are or he arranges to shut you down, to get you out of his way."

He also said: "The gunmen are not that different. They do not like to know that some other area way over cross town have police under pressure and where they are dem having things easy. It's crazy, but there's a domino effect that we have identified for the last 20 years. But we have not expanded much on it because it's too scary for the public to digest."

'So, let me ask you this. We know there is tension in east Kingston, and areas from Dunkirk to as far east as Rockfort close to Flour Mills are involved in strife. Are you saying that gunmen even as far away as St James may see this as reason to fire their guns?"

"No, I am not saying that, but based on what I know about gangs and gunmen over many years, they will not sit aside, especially if they believe the State is under pressure."

"So," I asked him. "Is the State under pressure?"

"No comment," was his answer.

 

You're confusing me, Howard Mitchell

 

It has been quite a while since I saw and spoke with Howard Mitchell, president of the PSOJ, the umbrella group representing the main members of those operating in the private sector. Should I come across him now, I would wish to whisper a question in his ear.

"Are most of your words as president of the PSOJ representative of the vast majority of those making it up, or are you going off on an adventure all on your own?"

Mr Mitchell is a man to be taken seriously in this country, and his stance against governmental corruption and his refusal to be held hostage to players in his organisation and their sectoral interests who believe they wield the sort of power held by kings and princes are to be commended. He said the following at a Rotary Club breakfast meeting two Fridays ago:

"The awful truth is that our established private sector has lost confidence in itself ... . We struggle for growth and development and encourage foreign investment that ultimately leads to profit being taken out of the country. Our profitable, large businesses are all investing abroad ... while ignoring huge potential in agriculture ... black castor oil, ginger, exotic spices and seasonings, fruit purÈes and drinks, and, yes, cannabis!"

Then he added: "I am presenting an argument that sustainable economic development is impossible without social reform and human capital development ... . I am arguing that the new capitalism must espouse corporate social responsibility, participative democracy, and leadership that believes in development that is broad-based and not 'top-down'."

Those are fighting words from a man who is supposed to represent the caricature of the big private-sector boys as all rapacious, seeing employees as mere units and government as either conveniently corruptible or as a huge stumbling block. Somehow I get the sense that Mitchell is taking a gaze back at his young days at university when he wanted to save the world and provide a hand of help to every deserving person. Like a throwback socialist.

When Mr Mitchell said at the breakfast meeting, after pointing out some of the positive metrics of lower unemployment, falling interest rate and an increase in start-ups:

"I will point out that all is not roses ... . Our balance of payments deficit is increasing, rule prices are rising, inflation has not met targets, the dollar has depreciated in the last 60 days, and our progress on the ease-of-doing business chart has stalled."

Hmm? " ... [E]ase of doing business ... has stalled." How does that square with Prime Minister Holness tweeting, "Jamaica ranks 5th in the world in terms of ease of starting a business and interest rates at record lows. We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity" while attaching a favourable chart from Global Banking and Finance to support his boast?

Which one is right, or is it that Mr Mitchell is merely pointing out some pernicious statistics that refuse to go away while the PM is grabbing at anything that will make his administration look good?

 

Is Jamaica better for foreign start-ups?

 

Mr Mitchell's basic thesis is that local businesses, especially the bigger ones, prefer to invest abroad instead of launch into new areas like agriculture. And we know that foreigners are seeing Jamaica as the perfect place to site BPOs and employ our easily trained people.

In trying to put both ends together, Mr Mitchell is urging some of the big boys to open their minds to the idea of agricultural investment and their bank accounts to launching out into more of the type of businesses that will intersect with most of our people usually placed at the bottom of the pile when growth and development plans are being drafted.

As an example, what is to stop a big all-inclusive indirect investment in agro-processing and planting high-value crops? The hard and inconvenient fact is, Jamaica is in the tropical belt and it has a hurricane season for six months. Why would an all-inclusive want to shift the risk of hurricane damage to crops to itself instead of the local farmers he purchases from?

Mr Mitchell is singing a song of wishing and hoping, and one doesn't get the sense that the majority of the big players are humming along with him even though the melody is sweetly harmonic.

People are still launching businesses with the first intention of making money in the most efficient way possible. Agriculture is still seen as too big a risk. That will not change anytime soon.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-interest commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.