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Praedial Larceny Prevention Programme remains in limbo

Published:Saturday | October 8, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

PLANS FOR the much-vaunted Praedial Larceny Prevention Programme seem to have fallen by the wayside following the departure of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Dunn who was appointed to lead the national drive to arrest the wide-scale theft of livestock and other farm produce on December 15, 2009.

"I have nothing to tell you on that right now," Dr Marc Panton, chief technical director in the agriculture ministry, told The Gleaner on Wednesday. " I just don't have anything I can tell you, honestly."

Dunn, for whom the post of praedial larceny prevention coordinator was created, quit in March over concerns about the ministry's ability to continue to pay his salary. This was just after the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Crime Stop which seemed destined to raise the public awareness about the theft of farm produce which has been quoted at $5 billion annually. However, many people believe this figure to be well below the real figure, given that a lot of theft goes unreported.

disappointing situation

Crime Stop Manager Prudence Gentles was particularly disappointed with the failure to build on the strategies put in place to facilitate the requisite networking among stakeholders in agriculture to mount a sustained assault against praedial larceny.

"What has happened since then, I have absolutely no idea," she told The Gleaner.

"I wish I could assist you. I'm not too sure what is happening with the anti-praedial larceny. I think the only place that you can go and find that out is the Ministry of Agriculture," she suggested.

In collaboration with the Jamaica Agricultural Society and Rural Agricultural Development Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries developed a range of posters, bumper stickers and billboards, which were to be used in conjunction with television, radio and print advertisements. 'Join The Fight To STOP Praedial Larceny', the brightly coloured posters shouted, urging people to call Crime Stop at 311 and get a cash reward if they saw anyone stealing agricultural produce, livestock, fish pots or lumber.

However, due to a lack of promotion the new initiative never really took off, and by the time Robert Montague took over the reins of the agriculture and fisheries ministry at the end of June, ministry officials were scrambling to assure the public that all was well.

"We've only ever received one phone call and that was about stolen goats. We got there too late. These guys move them quickly and by the time we got there, they had gone," Prudence admitted.

She too is mystified as to why the new initiative never really got going, "It is very sad that we went to so much and it's really come to a standstill. I can't say it's come to nought because I have I have not been told that it's come to nought. In other words, I have not been told that they're not doing it. I don't know. I really wish I could help you. I wish I knew ..." said the frustrated Crime Stop manager.

In June, a full two months after the former defence force officer had left the post, Dr Panton assured gave the assurance that retired top cop Assistant Commissioner of Police Reginald Grant would succeed him.

He declared then: "Mr Grant is expected to be fully engaged by the end of August." However, on Wednesday, with the post still up for grabs, he was much less definitive. "Things have changed (but) I don't know if anything has change for him or not."

other elements of the initiative

Meanwhile, speaking in an earlier interview, Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, tried to downplay the role of the praedial larceny prevention coordinator in the overall scheme of things.

He said there are several other elements to the praedial larceny initiatives to be implemented, including the establishment of a closed user group mobile phone network among stakeholders including members of production and marketing organisations and the police. He insisted that any attempt to effectively address this scourge must take root at the community level for it to be truly effective.

"That's where the crimes are perpetrated and people are aware of who is stealing, but they are afraid of coming forward because of the whole 'informer' mentality in our society," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, for Gentles, the longer the issue remains in limbo, things can only get much harder for those already suffering at the hands of thieves.

"It's a shame. It's really a shame because I thought it was really a good programme. I think it's worth pursuing for the sake of the small farmers in particular who suffer big time from it!"

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com