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Ministers can't stop murders

Jason MCKAY

Sunday, December 03, 2017

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I do acknowledge that Jamaica's greatest problem is the loss of human life by violence.

However, being a pragmatist, I believe that a logical approach to everything is important. Therefore, I don't believe that our every policy decision and judgement of job performance should be based on the impact that professionals — whether politicians or police officers — have on reducing the rate of homicides.

The standard by which a minister of national security is judged is totally determined by how successful he was in reducing the homicide rate during his tenure. He is therefore judged a failure if homicides increase.

This criteria is largely determined by the standards designated by the Jamaican public and press. I have never agreed with this as I feel it demonstrates a total misunderstanding of murder and its ability to be prevented, particularly in the short run.

I have seen this standard also used to judge the police force and the tenure of who is in charge at a particular time. Well, if this is an impractical methodology to judge the tenure of a commissioner, it is an even greater injustice to judge a minister in this way.

The long-term solution to murder is a change in social and economic conditions of the poorest of its inner-city communities. The short-term solutions are almost all constrained by new legislations introduced and a constitution that was designed to combat a reasonably deviant society.

Since a minister of national security has very little to do with bringing about significant change in social and economic standards, there is little they can contribute to being a major part of a long-term solution.

As it relates to short-run solutions, our Constitution has always been a padlock to introducing legislation that reduces freedoms, and since Jamaica enacted the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Constitutional Amendment Act in 2011 it has got more difficult. This is not necessarily a bad thing; who wants to live in China, Vietnam or North Korea?

The first indication of this flawed judgement criteria can be detected by analysing ministers who have served before, and their careers outside of the Ministry of National Security.

Let us first look at former Minister KD Knight. He had an amazing career as a defence attorney prior to being minister of national security, yet he failed to reduce murders during his tenure. In fact, between 1992 and 2000, murders increased from 629 per annum to 887, a percentage increase of 41.

This occurred also during the tenure of Dr Peter Phillips, when murders increased between 2002 at 1,045 per annum to 1,574 in 2007, an increase of 51 per cent.

However, if you looked on his career in academia alone, he was a success story, gaining a doctorate by age 35.

Peter Bunting, who is arguably one of the 10 most successful Jamaican self-made businessmen still alive, also had no success in reducing murder, with killings increasing by 23 per cent between 2012 and 2016.

This would appear to be a classic indication that there is something wrong with this type of analysis if these three very successful men all failed to reduce the homicide rate during their period of governance over the Ministry of National Security.

Is it that we are going to ignore every other accomplishment of the persons who served in this post other than their success in reducing the homicide rate?

I would argue that it would be impossible to ignore Dr Phillips's accomplishments in reducing the flow of narcotics through Jamaica and his part in the fall of several drug kingpins who operated with impunity, particularly in western Jamaica.

The same could be said of Bunting, who was primary in the introduction of reform legislation such as the Proceeds of Crime Act 2007 and the Law Reform Act. He also played a pivotal role of establishing new standards at the Firearm Licensing Authority, whilst accomplishing the merger of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) after years of hearing it could not be done.

Looking at the recent history of Jamaica's homicide rate, it appears that Minister Robert Montague may face the ills of being judged a failure because of this ridiculous standard, despite his highly-rated tenure as Minister of Agriculture and his achievement of finally getting legislation passed that aids law enforcement (ie ZOSO) rather than impede it.

The reason for this judgement is because of a misunderstanding of the function of the minister of national security and a lack of understanding of how murder is prevented in the short run.

A minister's job is to establish policy and seek legislative solutions to the various challenges that face the nation. Policy may be short-run, but legislative change is not and only constitutional changes will allow for changes that restrict freedom of movement.

Constitutional change is by no means short-run, nor is it popular politics internationally or locally.

I would further argue that although I support any legislation that destroys our current killing culture, I am in the minority. This therefore makes legislation that would help curb murder too suppressive to garner support from a Parliament that requires popularity to continue in Government.

I would hope that going forward we could modify the thought, process currently being used to judge our ministers of national security, as it is no coincidence that no politician who has held this job has ever become Prime Minister.

We may be robbing ourselves of truly talented prime ministers.

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