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‘Save our nation’ - Outgoing PSOJ boss declares increased policing not enough to bring end to lawlessness, prevent total anarchy

Published:Thursday | September 26, 2019 | 12:11 AMAndré Williams and Romario Scott/Gleaner Writers
Former PSOJ President Howard Mitchell
Former PSOJ President Howard Mitchell

The apparent increased incidence of lawlessness and chaos on the roads has captured the attention of the powerful Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), which, yesterday, called for the Government and civil society to band together to find a solution.

In his departing message, the immediate past president of the PSOJ, Howard Mitchell, said it could not be business as usual going forward.

“Repression and increased policing could not be the only responses to this creeping decivilisation of our country. We must find the will to put aside differences in political interest and collaborate to save our nation by strengthening our institutions and implementing social reforms before we descend into total anarchy,” said Mitchell, who served for two terms before making way for Keith Duncan, group CEO, The JMMB Group, who was yesterday elected the 20th president of the PSOJ during a council meeting held at the organisation’s offices on Hope Road in St Andrew.

“In this regard, we support wholeheartedly the recent steps towards political bipartisan and civil society discussions on crime and violence and look forward to their progress. True economic sustainability will remain a pipe dream if we cannot address the social ills that are strangling our growth prospects,” said Mitchell.

The call was made by the PSOJ as the nation comes to grips with chaotic scenes in the Corporate Area over the past two days amid allegations of threats against the drivers of the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC).

The threats and fears, which resulted from Monday night’s stabbing death of a taxi driver, allegedly during a dispute with a JUTC driver, and the fatal shooting hours later of a JUTC employee, led to bus drivers staying off the roads on Tuesday.

But even with new measures in place to beef up security on board JUTC buses, 106 of the approximately 1,600 drivers yesterday called in sick, the entity’s management has disclosed.

The JUTC attempted its phased roll-out yesterday following Tuesday’s day of inactivity.

The Gleaner understands that on average, 380 buses are dispatched daily to meet the demands of the commuting public.

But despite the fear among the bus drivers, Transport Minister Robert Montague said in a statement that at 10 a.m. yesterday, 32 buses were dispatched from Rockfort, 36 from Portmore, and 31 from the Spanish Town depot.

The latter constituted the majority of the drivers staying off the job, with 41. Twenty-seven stayed home in Portmore, and 38 in Rockfort.

Though the transport centre in Half-Way Tree was open, following its Tuesday closure after a security threat, The Gleaner saw relatively limited activity taking place at the facility.

Yesterday, the JUTC said it would continue to meet and discuss attendance issues with its drivers and that counselling sessions had been conducted at the Rockfort depot, where the murdered JUTC employee had been posted.

Paul Abrahams, managing director of the JUTC, noting that a third of the company’s buses were rolled out yesterday, said he was optimistic about a better outcome today.

Police are still probing if 34-year-old Mikkel ‘Biggs’ Donaldson, who was gunned down in New Kingston on Monday night while working on a disabled JUTC bus, was killed in reprisal for the death of 37-year-old taxi operator Akeeno ‘Bubinile’ Britton, who was stabbed during an incident along Washington Boulevard.

The JUTC said that it would continue to assess the situation and that it hoped to have full restoration of service in short order.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has instructed the Ministry of National Security to investigate all instances of public mischief.

In a statement on Tuesday night, Holness said: “I have directed the minister of national security and the security forces to take firm action in this regard and to ensure that the incidents are thoroughly investigated and those responsible feel the full force of the law, including those persons who misused social media to create panic in the wake of [Tuesday’s] incidents.”

andre.willams@gleanerjm.com; romario.scott@gleanerjm.com