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Give crime fighters access to EOJ data

Published:Tuesday | June 5, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

NATIONAL SECURITY Minister Peter Bunting says the challenge faced by Jamaican law enforcement in ferreting out the major players in organised crime has once again brought into sharp focus the question of whether there should be legal access to fingerprints and photographs of persons on the voters' list, to assist in crime fighting.

Asked if the Government would be looking at amending legislation to provide access to biometrics data housed at the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), Bunting said: "I think it's something that we have to do."

Speaking during yesterday's launch of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA) at the Police Officers' Club in St Andrew, Bunting said part of the new agency's role would be to recommend changes in policy and changes in legislation that would make it more difficult for the 'kingfish' of organised crime to operate.

Bunting told an audience of international and local partners in the fight against organised crime that he had always felt frustrated as a member of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica where "we have the biggest data of biometrics, over 1.6 million photographs and fingerprints, and we can't use one of those in crime fighting".

Law reflects earlier era

The national security minister argued that the law restricting the use of this data would have been reflective of a different era when crime did not pose as much a threat to national security as it does now.

He said this was not the only area where restriction in information-sharing was barred by legal or policy restrictions.

"I think we have to re-examine that because the trend now in successful law enforcement is that you have to come at major organised criminals from every possible direction and every perspective."

At the same time, Bunting argued that there were strong laws currently on the books that were not being used effectively.

He said the country had not used the Proceeds of Crime (POCA) law to its advantage: "The reality is, notwithstanding a few cases, we have not used this law effectively."

POCA was introduced about five years ago. However, Bunting said while there have been a fair amount of detention of assets there were few cases where assets were forfeited.

He said the Ministry of Justice had invited an expert to review POCA. The expert carried out the review and described the statute as "cutting edge".

"So clearly we have a very powerful piece of legislation, we just need to use it," Bunting added.

The national security minister also argued that the Corruption Prevention Act was under-utilised.

Noting that the law was "hardly disturbed", Bunting said this statute was highlighted mainly when designated public-sector workers did not submit their annual returns.

He said the first case of prosecution in the area of illicit enrichment under the Corruption Prevention Act took place earlier this year. "It shows that we have important pieces of legislation. We have a formidable arsenal right now and it's just to figure out how to use it effectively."