EDITORIAL - New MOCA needs more work
We like the intent of Monday's merger, under external leadership, of two police units that investigate organised crime and corruption, but as Peter Bunting, the national security minister, essentially implied - and this newspaper agrees - the move does not go far enough.
Indeed, we would have preferred if Mr Bunting, in bringing together the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA) and the Anti-Corruption Branch had simply, by statute, created a new, specialised law-enforcement agency, rather than this, as he put it, "interim step". It is an idea that this newspaper has championed for many years.
MOCA, in its original form, was established two years ago, the latest in a long list of elite police units to go after the most serious criminals in a country notorious for corruption and where the 'big fish' is hardly every caught - or even sought. The difference with MOCA is that its police personnel worked with the investigative arms of other critical agencies and institutions in an effort, as the saying goes, to follow the money. It has had a lot of publicity, especially over the arrest of people involved in sweepstakes scams that target foreigners, but the absence of disaggregated data makes it difficult to fully analyse its performance. Similarly, the Anti-Corruption Branch appears to have had success in arresting police personnel for accepting bribes, but this has mostly been for low-level stuff.
Part of the problem of the past with special units like MOCA, anecdotal evidence suggests, is its capture by a constabulary that many people perceive to be institutionally corrupt and has organisational resistance to fundamental change. Gains are made slowly in the police force.
It is an appreciation of these difficulties that drove the creation of an independent agency like INDECOM to investigate police abuse, and our several suggestions, over many years, for a law-enforcement agency to investigate the kinds of crimes that the new MOCA will probe and certain categories of murder, as well as abductions. We have proposed that members of this new agency, with its elite status, could be recruited primarily from among the too many young people who graduate annually with law, accounting or other useful degrees, but find themselves unemployed or underemployed. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), as it continues its slow transition to a healthy institution, would be responsible for more routine police work.
Mr Bunting's fuller plans
In the meantime, we look forward to Mr Bunting's fuller plans for the new MOCA and would appreciate hearing what, if any, relationship there is between this development and the recent departure of the police chief, Owen Ellington. Further, there is need for further and better particulars on the reporting arrangements of the new MOCA, in particular its head, Jamaica Defence Force Col Desmond Edwards, who has been seconded to the job.
In the absence of specific legislation, the new MOCA's constabulary authority comes from the fact that its critical operational members remain part of the JCF, while, we expect, Colonel Edwards will be sworn in as a constable. But it seems that Colonel Edwards is under no obligation to follow the JCF's chain of command, but report through Mr Bunting to the National Security Council "on matters of policy and performance".
This is a potentially messy arrangement - and why clear legislative demarcation of the authority and structure of the agencies should have been established.
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