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How far is too far for INDECOM, Mr PM?

...when you've gone NIDS far


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Like lava flowing down from Mount Vesuvius, Prime Minister Andrew Holness waxed warm at the recent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) conference. It was his moment and he milked it for all it was worth. In the main, it was a realistic presentation as he lauded his Government's achievements and the hopes that would buttress it going into the future. The good things that the Administration has achieved remain overshadowed by the country's persistent crime problem characterised by a runaway murder rate largely by the gun.

Fighting crime in Jamaica, as we know, is an intractable problem. It was here that the prime minister was not able to give the nation any real hope that crime could be cauterised any time soon, or that his Administration was on top of the problem. There is no hard evidence that the much-ballyhooed zones of special operations (ZOSO) initiative is having any marked effect on the crime situation. Murder by the gun continues apace and people continue to cower in fear for their own demise or that of their friends and family members.

The security forces are under siege and the Government is now in the throes of negotiations with them and other public sector groups. Things are not proceeding that smoothly with the police, and this is perhaps why the prime minister, in a rush of political adrenaline, felt constrained to criticise the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) for going too far in executing its duty in giving oversight to the force. This, according to the prime minister, has placed the police in retreat; suggesting that they are not doing their work robustly because of the overreach of INDECOM.

What he did not spell out, however, is how far is too far.

If you listen to the protestation of the police force since the introduction of INDECOM, even the introduction of this oversight body has been a humbug to them. They have not been used to this kind of oversight. Indeed, and as far as I know, there is no police force in the world that cherishes an external body looking over their shoulders — the Jamaica Constabulary Force is certainly not the exception.

From the very beginning the police have opposed INDECOM and complained about how it is preventing them from doing their jobs. Some have laid down their arms in protest, especially when members of their body have been arrested, brought before the courts, found guilty, and sentenced. In the past, these policemen would have escaped this kind of judgement and would, perhaps, have gone on to commit further acts of infamy against Jamaican citizens.

Let us face the truth. It is no secret that the police have made it clear to the Jamaican people that they have not been happy with INDECOM breathing down their necks. This is understandable, as for years they have operated as a law unto themselves. Under the infamous Suppression of Crime Act they operated with little or no oversight. This has been the case with special squads that have been introduced over the years to fight crime. Extrajudicial killings were — for some rogue policemen — the standard operating procedure. It is to the credit of the Bruce Golding Administration to finally introduce this body.

Its first and present director/commissioner, Terrence Williams, has tenaciously carried out what he believes to be the demands of his office. He has sought to do so within the constraints of the constitution, and with limited staffing and operational resources. In a country where the work ethic is not often highly valued, some have criticised his approach as too draconian or overzealous. But many Jamaicans are mindful of the work of this body and fully support its work.

So it would have been useful if the prime minister had spelt out how far is too far. Did he sit with INDECOM and communicate his concerns to them? If he did not, now that he has thrashed them publicly, will he now sit with them and explain his Administration's concerns?

Is the work of INDECOM truly hindering the police in their fight against crime? This is a question to be answered, Mr Prime Minister. You have sought to publicly challenge this body and you have left questions unanswered in the public's mind. Could you move to alleviate these concerns?


NIDS: It smells foul

As one is on this matter, the passage of the national identifications system Bill (NIDS) has left some lingering concerns that are also impatient of alleviation. After a long and robust debate, the Senate came up with a number of amendments to the Bill. Their deliberations demonstrated that there were deficiencies coming from the Lower Chamber that ought to have been addressed. When the amendments were sent back to the Lower Chamber the prime minister asked for a postponement of debate on them. The reason, to the best of my knowledge, was not given. One would have thought that by asking for the postponement, the decision would be taken to allow for more public comment on the amendments, but this was not to be.

From there the whole House descended into chaos with the Opposition walking out, and the Speaker suspending business. When they resumed, the Government took the opportunity of the Opposition's absence to ram through the Bill on a purely party line. This is unfortunate, notwithstanding the fact that the Bill before the amendments had enjoyed almost unanimous support in the House.

The volume of amendments and concerns raised by the Senate should have necessitated discussions before its final passage. These concerns continue to linger. It does not matter that the idea of a NIDS has been around for the longest time. Once promulgated and made law, Jamaicans will be bound by its provisions.

At this point we do not have the assurance that Big Brother will be able to protect the privacy of its citizens under the Act as citizens would hope. The prime minister and the Government seem to be cognisant of its untidy approach to the final passage of the Bill, and that the public should have been engaged. They have now embarked on this public discussion long after the horse has charged through the gate and torn it from its hinges. What is a good legislation now has the smell of hydrogen sulfide all over it.


Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or