Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
If the agricultural sector had been holding its breath, waiting on the Government's promised publicity campaign to revive interest in curbing the growing wave of farm theft, then every farmer would have been comatose by now.
In the words of Prudence Gentles, manager of Crime Stop, they have been waiting in vain on the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' promised media blitz.
"It has not got any better, Sir, because the ministry has not been advising and without reaching out to people in the communities, they are not going to call because praedial larceny is already a very difficult situation. People in the community know exactly who is stealing and I find that without the ministry willing to put money into advertising it or pushing it, we are not going to get any further with it." Gentles' assessment of the Government's praedial larceny prevention initiatives speaks to her frustration with the perceived inaction of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
But the ministry is rejecting any claim that it has been inactive. "It is not true," Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Donovan Stanberry, told The Gleaner. "We had a joint programme with Crime Stop," he said of the launch. "If you look from Spanish Town to Ewarton, one of the signs is there. The programme is ongoing and another is to be launched in the next budget year," Stanberry said.
Reward money in escrow
Crime Stop has indicated, however, that for more than two years it has been holding $1 million in escrow, to be disbursed for information leading to arrests for farm theft, as it awaits the public awareness programme.
"Crime Stop is sitting here willing and waiting to assist but nothing seems to be happening," Gentles shared with The Gleaner. With no more than four calls to report farm theft, even as anecdotal reports suggest a fast-growing crime wave, the Government's inactivity is hurting the programme; a situation that has Gentles puzzled.
"I have been trying to find out what is the situation and haven't really been able to make any headway, and my number-one item on my New Year's resolution is to try and even revamp (the programme) or just say, okay, ba-bye. That's it, you know."
The ministry had promised a high-impact information blitz to saturate the airwaves and print media with information relating to the importance of community policing and other collaborative efforts to stem the theft of agricultural produce. This was predicated on easy access to the police via agencies such as Crime Stop, grounded in the assurance that the source of information leading to arrests would not be leaked.
Watch for the continuation of our series.