Wed | May 22, 2019

Businessman: If ZOSO were a person, he’d get my vote - Mount Salem basks in transformation ushered in by security initiative

Published:Thursday | April 18, 2019 | 12:30 AMAdrian Frater/News Editor
A member of the joint security forces interacts with children in Mount Salem, St James, in this 2017 file photo.
A member of the joint security forces interacts with children in Mount Salem, St James, in this 2017 file photo.

Western Bureau:

As the Government continues to mull over the idea of establishing more zones of special operations (ZOSO) across the island, residents of Mount Salem, in St James, which had the first ZOSO, say they are enjoying the transformational effect of the crime-fighting initiative and welcome its continuation.

“Mount Salem is the envy of every other community in St James because the ZOSO has transformed the community and made it a place of peace,” a businessman, who asked not to be identified, told The Gleaner yesterday. “You have a few people whose criminal relatives were forced to flee and might want them to come back, but they are the minority. The majority of us are happy.”

According to the businessman, the community, which was once considered a ghetto, has taken on a more organised look under ZOSO, with uplifting features such as the zinc-removal programme, which saw zinc perimeter fencing being replaced by concrete walls; major road repairs; improved garbage collection; a return to organised sports; and the provision of services to help residents get important documents such as NIS and TRN cards as well as birth certificates and passports.

“What has happened to Mount Salem under ZOSO far supersedes anything I’ve ever seen done by any politician in my entire life,” the businessman said. “If ZOSO was an individual, I would push him into politics and give him my vote. This is the representation that every community should get.”

On Tuesday, the Parliament voted unanimously to approve further extensions for the ongoing ZOSO in Mount Salem, which was the recipient of the nation’s first ZOSO, which came into being amid much controversy in September 2017 when incorrect crime statistics were used to justify its installation.

Following much machination and debates, the Government ultimately conceded that the figures quoted about murders in the community were incorrect and apologised to the residents, who were angered by the ugly tag they had been given.

Since those early days, the residents have embraced the ZOSO and its social programme so much so that even another blunder by Omar Sweeney – the deputy chairman of the ZOSOs Social Intervention Committee, who was quoted in the media as saying that “85 per cent of the young women (in Mount Salem) were involved in a form of prostitution” – was quickly forgotten after he retracted the statement.

“We have not had a murder in Mount Salem since we got the ZOSO over 500 days ago. Isn’t that wonderful?” said the businessman. “We have proven that we can exist in peace once we have the social programmes to open opportunities for the people.”

adrian.frater@gleanerjm.com