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Editors’ Forum

Bunting bats for holistic approach to fighting crime

Published:Tuesday | July 2, 2019 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter
Peter Bunting, who is mounting a challenge for the leadership of the People’s National Party, addresses a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s North Street, Kingston, offices while campaign operatives Mark Golding (centre) and Dr Dayton Campbell look on.

Aspirant to the presidency of the People’s National Party (PNP), Peter Bunting, who in 2013 as national security minister called for “divine intervention” to curb Jamaica’s bloody crime rate, has promised better results if he wins the next general election as leader of the party.

“I was security minister at a time of extreme fiscal tightness. I never had more than $2 billion of a capital budget in any year. This year the capital budget is over $20 billion; 10 times what I had. Each year it has increased; last year it was $12 billion, for example,” said Bunting during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s North Street, Kingston, offices last Thursday.

“So, in terms of resources, it would be a different context. But even with that widow’s mite, relatively speaking of resources, our outcomes were much better than they have been either in the period before or in the period after,” continued Bunting, who served as security minister from January 2012 to February 2016.

“The difference is that they (the Government) have decided that the suppression-of-crime approach is what they are doing. They are suspending people’s rights; they are doubling the size of the army,” said Bunting, arguing that there has been more than 1,000 more murders over the last three years compared to the corresponding period, despite the significant increase in resources afforded to the Prime Minister Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration.

‘Divine intervention’

In 2013, Bunting received severe backlash from sections of the public after an address at Northern Caribbean University where he said that “the best efforts of the security forces by itself will not solve the crime problem in Jamaica, it is going to take divine intervention”.

Bunting, in his almost teary-eyed address, said: “I am not embarrassed to say that right now, as minister of national security, I am going through a kind of dark night of the soul.”

Last Thursday, however, it seemed that that dark night had lifted as he criticised the JLP’s mostly confrontational approach, and promised a more public health-focused approach to crime fighting, which he said showed positive signs through the ‘Unite for Change’ project started under his leadership of the national security ministry.

“It really took the public-health approach to crime and violence prevention, and we did a lot of work, brought in an organisation called Cure Violence from the [United] States and we twinned them with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), trained violence interrupters,” he said.

“If you look at what is happening in St Catherine North [Police Division] now, with no state of emergency, it has one of the best reductions in violent crimes, and a lot of it is the work of the PMI and the violence interrupters programme that we started,” he continued.

“That was the programme that I believe brought a holistic approach, you realise that the murders and the shootings and the rapes that you see today is really the outcome of years of neglect at different levels: family, at school, at community, a lack of social workers and mental healthcare to recognise and diagnose persons.”

Describing the chances of the PNP winning the next general election under its current leader, Dr Peter Phillips, as slim, Bunting said states of emergency would not be an ultimate crime-fighting approach if the party wins the general election with him at the helm.

“That is not an effective approach as a national crime-fighting strategy. It may have brought a little relief to the people in St James, but a government is responsible for the entire country,” he said. “It is not effective, and the more you use it, the less effective it becomes.”