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Peace out - PMI to bid farewell to over 40 violence-prone communities due to funding cut

Published:Sunday | December 15, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris - Staff Reporter
Members of the Peace Management Initiative among other community members in the March Pen Road area of St Catherine.
Horace Chang, minister of national security.
Damian Hutchinson, executive director of the Peace Management Initiative ... Our main programming comes to an end this December and we are not sure where the funding is coming from going forward.
Dr Elizabeth Ward...They understand the community issues that are drivers of violence.
Herbert Gayle... We are still somewhat shocked that there has not been any greater investment in PMI.

The Peace Management Initiative (PMI) is to pull out of more than 40 volatile communities across the country come the first quarter of next year, as the Government has signalled its intention to significantly cut back future funding for the group.

The 17-year-old organisation is in need of $180 million to finance its interventions annually, but Executive Director Damian Hutchinson said it was informed that the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP), through which the PMI received the majority of its funding, will no longer contribute anywhere near previous levels to its operations.

Among the programmes that will cease are the national violence-interruption programme through which 130 peace advocates are deployed to the more than 40 communities in St James, Kingston, St Catherine, Westmoreland, Hanover and Clarendon to prevent conflicts from escalating. These areas include Effortville, Norwood, Salt Spring, Denham Town and Trench Town.

“We are in a very uncertain period. Our main programming comes to an end this December and we are not sure where the funding is coming from going forward,” said Hutchinson.

Chang says programme not working

The organisation also has several other initiatives, including the Kingston chapter of Mothers United Against Gun Violence and a Trauma Response Programme which, on average, treat with at least 30 active gun-related conflicts across the country at any given time. All these initiatives will cease to exist come next year.

The PMI team was hoping the Ministry of National Security would continue to finance the project through the CSJP, despite not getting a favourable response following discussions. But all hopes were dashed when National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang told Parliament during a sitting in the House of Representatives last week that social-intervention programmes like the PMI are not working.

“I make no apology for saying that the current mechanism of social intervention has not worked [and] is not working,” Chang told members of parliament.

This was after a plea, from the People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson, for the Government to pump more funds into the programme which has over the years been credited for helping to transform some of Jamaica’s most volatile communities.

Despite his insistence that the programme has not been successful, Chang said $20 million would be reserved for the CSJP to help maintain the PMI until next March, and it will receive another $1.2 million per month going forward. The group generally receives an annual budget of $130 million through the CSJP. The group also receives funding from UNICEF, as well as other international organisations like USAID and Canadian Aid to a lesser extent.

“It is not working, and the idea of engaging some people who are involved in criminal activity for peace is not going well with me,” the minister argued.

Chang said investment would instead be made in rehabilitating police stations, creating a stronger investigative unit and improving other aspects of the security force, such as communication. Money will also be spent on improving schools and other social amenities in the communities. The Government was also granted the green light to extend the states of public emergency in five parishes and the zones of special operations in Denham Town, Kingston, and Mount Salem in St James.

“That’s where we must go, not PMI,” said Chang, in outlining some of the plans to curtail crime.

Gayle, Ward believe PMI’s initiatives work

Contrary to observations from National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, noted anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle says there is empirical evidence that the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) has played a major role in stemming crime.

The University of the West Indies professor said a study carried out last year showed that there was a 100 per cent reduction in crime in several communities in St Catherine and St James where the group had intervened.

“It showed that for every dollar that you invest in the PMI, what you get back is so invaluable, you cannot put a price tag on it. In other words, we are still somewhat shocked that there has not been any greater investment in PMI,” Gayle told The Sunday Gleaner.

He noted that his team, in carrying out the yearlong research, was particularly pleased with the level of work being undertaken by the violence interrupters in some of Jamaica’s toughest communities.

“Some of them actually sacrificed their own family life to bring peace to the communities,” he said.

“It’s dedication to the point of being ill from physically working. Even my team had to reflect on the fact that here are people who are putting themselves on the line, working to the point of being ill. Working to the point of being sick.”

During a Sunday Gleaner interview earlier this year, several violence interrupters (VIs) working in some of Kingston’s crime hotspots documented their encounters trying to get gang leaders and unattached youths to get engaged in entrepreneurial activities, furthering their studies and mending fences with their enemies. The team, which comprised several mothers, said they were often the first on a crime scene after a turf war, in a bid to prevent things from escalating.

“What they do with the VIs is to basically adopt families and people who are violence producers and work with them until those persons themselves begin to also become a positive influence in the community,” Gayle told The Sunday Gleaner a day before Chang made his presentation.

“In all the communities that we have assessed, I have not found one in which the VI programme was not effective,” said Gayle, before lamenting, “What has bothered me really is that you have something that works, that is not well supported.”

Very effective

Dr Elizabeth Ward, chairman of the Violence Prevention Alliance, agrees with Gayle. She has found that the initiatives have been very effective in stemming crime.

“They understand the community issues that are drivers of violence. Many of the communities have a historical component that drives their violence and understanding that is important to deciding on what kind of strategy to use,” she said.

She said there is never just one solution to crime, and the PMI has not received 100 per cent success in all areas, but, having worked with members of the security forces, churches, local and international groups, there is no doubting its performance.

“They, like everybody else, can’t do it alone and there are other partners that they work with, but they are trusted by the communities because their people come from the community and they are able to make an inroad into the communities over the longer term,” she said.