Mark Wignall | Lesson number one: Win elections big
Viewed mostly through the rational lens of political cynicism, the Opposition PNP has taken a gamble that its refusal to offer continued parliamentary support to enhanced security measures will make it more relevant to the voting public.
In its still confused mind, it is relying on the JLP administration being close to mortally hurt by a scandalous auditor general's report on PCJ-Petrojam and the public defender, citing human-rights violations experienced by several detainees in the states of emergency.
One senior police officer from the western end of the island told me recently: "It's always a tricky business when you know that certain young men are part of criminal networks and you have no hard evidence of it. You want to upset the effectiveness of that network and the quickest way is to detain some of these people and take them out of circulation."
"So, are you saying that all of the young men who were picked up, detained for long periods and eventually released without charges were gang members?" I asked.
"No, that is not what I am saying. But as I said before, it's a tricky business. Sometimes we are hoping that residents will use the opportunity to give us info on some of them, but many times, they are afraid to give us that information."
Against the best information by the security forces, the JLP is being reminded that as a pure political unit, it needs to win elections big, like how the PNP once did so that its legislative powers as a government could take place unimpeded.
The PNP wants the voting public to seriously doubt the sincerity of the JLP administration in light of the AG's report. If the Government can be screwing up there, it is likely that it is also messing up in micromanaging the human rights of some detainees ensnared during searches under the enhanced security measures.
Elections have consequences. Winning by small margins has oversize consequences. A party in power can be viewed as the reigning heavyweight champion. The PNP is its challenger and it has discovered close to three years now that it does not have that needed knockout punch. So it has to use the only other option: constant jabs to the body, especially if the head (Holness) is out of reach.
The PNP is into many versions of the short game in hoping to score a win. Reader, don't be deluded. Both entities are looking at their political bottom lines. Included in Prime Minister Holness' thought processes must be gearing up for the next election and going for a bigger bite of the political cherry. The PNP has to survive its inner turmoils while trying to weaken the JLP administration's agenda.
HOW THEY ARE AFFECTED
Someone I know, the owner of a small bar/shop, was recently taken in, held for two weeks, and then released without charge. They found a moderate stock of ganja in his room. In an adjoining room, one policeman said he found live ammunition. According to the shop owner, the policeman was trying to plant the bullets on him. Who to believe?
Small-business operations like bars, late-night shops and eateries, party promoters, streetside vendors have seen their earnings take a nosedive, but ironically, most of them can see the bigger picture.
One pan chicken man in a St James community texted me and said: "Mi wish dem could si wid likkle people like we and gi wi a bly. Mi know sey is fi di good of the community, but it mash up wi earnings."
According to the MoBay Chamber of Commerce (CofC), "The Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce & Industry continues to maintain its position that it is unable to support the removal of the enhanced security measures in St James, which is now slated to end January 31, 2018, without a clear, suitable replacement. We again implore the Houses of Parliament to work together to get this done.
"The tremendous work of the joint security forces since the advent of the ESM in reducing the crime levels is of no small measure and is lauded by the chamber. In our support of the extension in April 2018, we were of the strong view that the relentless collaborative and intelligent crime fighting since the ESM was necessary for at least another six to 12 months to demonstrate to criminals that we are unambiguous about eradicating this monster. Business interests and the citizens of St James are of the strong view that we must never return to the horrific conditions of lawlessness which were experienced pre-ESM."
Small-business operators and those who make up the MoBay CofC sit at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, but both ought to have the same objectives: that of making money.
A very outspoken and strident Minister Daryl Vaz said to me last Wednesday: "The recommendations for extension are coming from the heads of the JCF and JDF, who have both stated publicly that the SOEs are not intended to be permanent. It is downright irresponsible to end it prematurely, and the Opposition will be held to account by the people of Jamaica. In my mind, it equates to treason."
Strong words from one of those among the more active ministers in the Holness Cabinet. Vaz went on to say: "All of us MPs are assigned security, and some of us, therefore, live in a false sense of security and lose the reality of what our constituents experience. It's a dark day for Jamaica."
Hyperbole or reality coming from the minister?
HOLNESS PLAYING CHESS, PNP DRAUGHTS
It was always known that the states of emergency (SOEs) were never invested in any political permanence in that the security forces would have had to, at some stage, inform the political directorate that the objectives had been met and normality could be returned to.
But what type of normality would it be? Stephen Edwards, head of G2K, the JLP's pre-eminent youth arm, issued a press release that captured the reality. "Since the states of emergency (SOE) were declared, there has been a 22 per cent decline in murders nationally.
"In the Kingston Metropolitan Region under the SOE, shootings are down by 88 per cent and murders down by 93 per cent. The parishes of St James and St Catherine recorded a 70 per cent and a 55 per cent decline in murders, respectively. The minister of national security also disclosed in Parliament the results of a poll that showed 88 per cent of the people in St James support the state of emergency."
VERY REAL PEOPLE
Behind those numbers are very real people, some much more alive than dead. But with all of that, Prime Minister Holness must have known that with no other easily seen solution available to push back in an urgent fashion against the crime monster, he had to rely on the SOEs until some outside force ended them.
He knew that the security forces were not yet in a position to tell him to sign off on all SOEs. If, at some later stage, the security forces told him it was OK to scale back and end them, it was incumbent on him to sign off on that. If the murder rate began in another increase, it would be seen again as under his watch. Bad, but he acted with sound and official intelligence.
If the PNP, in trying to claim its political moment but ostensibly 'on behalf of the people', refused to give further parliamentary support to the SOEs and after a significant time the murder rates remained post-SOEs, no one would remember that it was the PNP that withdrew support. The good grades would go to Holness.
Should murders see another increase, the people would immediately recall who pulled away in Parliament when real lives are being taken again. The PNP.