Columns

Time come, Mr PM, time come

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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At the time of writing there have been over 40 murders in Jamaica since the start of the new year, mostly by the gun. The nation ended 2017 with over 1,600 murders — the third-highest to date. The devastating truth is that the country continues to bleed from a rampant murder rate, and the powers entrusted to do something about it are appearing irresolute and impotent to do something about it.

Crime is the albatross around the necks of the Jamaican people; it is the Achilles heel of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in power. One would have thought that in the context of these harrowing murder statistics that the first action of a Government seriously concerned about what is clearly a national emergency would have been to summon the nation to some action plan regarding this problem. Apart from a few babblings about the need to address crime in a predictable New Year's address, the prime minister has given no assurance to the Jamaican people that he and his Cabinet have the will to tackle the problem head on.

Instead of this action plan, we started the year with what has emerged as an unfortunate squabble between Minister of National Security Robert “Bobby” Montague and Commissioner of Police George Quallo. The issue is the spectacle on the Palisadoes strip concerning an entertainment event which descended into chaos and inconvenienced people using the road to the airport. The minister demanded accountability from the police and rejected an interim report from the commissioner. The matter has now deteriorated in a stand-off between the police and the minister as members of the force have circled the wagons around the commissioner.

The commissioner himself, in the brief time he has been in office, has not demonstrated any firm grasp of the portfolio. So when Jamaicans see this squabble involving him, members of his force, and the minister who supervises them then their understanding alarm, and even fear, are well appreciated. Such squabble can only encourage those who want to do crime; for they see incompetence and ineptitude and know that the chance of them being brought to boot is indeed very slim.

This is why the prime minister must be told in no uncertain terms that the time has come to treat crime as the national emergency it has become. One commentator said that it should be treated with the same level of thinking as one does a hurricane emergency, and I would suggest a Category 5. At the start of the year one would have thought that the number one item on the agenda of the prime minister would have been to summon the Opposition, civil society, the private sector, the Church, and other important institutions to a summit, at which short- and medium-term measures to deal with the problem would have been promulgated.

Essential to these measures would be the adoption of strategies that could immediately be adopted to silence at least some of the guns. Measures to increase the mobility of the force and further police our borders would be high on the agenda. Plans for the long-term reform of the force and the justice system would also be considered along with help that we could garner from our friends and partners abroad.

The Government must rethink its strategy of incremental zones of special operation and realise that the entire Jamaica is such a zone. This is what treating the problem as a national emergency demands. We are an island of under three million people with about 4,411 square miles of territory. It cannot be beyond our capacity to rein in what is clearly a small percentage of the population that is bent on spreading anarchy, fear and mayhem. The help of the people in this initiative is pivotal, but they will not be that ready to help if they perceive that the Government does not have the will to deal with the problem. The great test that the prime minister faces is to convince them that he does.

While the JLP goes through the gyrations of dealing with the problem, the People's National Party (PNP) ought to know that they are being watched. Understanding the tribal nature of Jamaican politics, we know there is glee in their camp that the Government is taking the flak for the crime problem. The more diminished the Government gets in the light of the crime problem, the greater their optimism of regaining power. But many of us do not believe that they have the solutions any more than the other party does. Their long stint in running the country and poor record in dealing with the deteriorating crime problem have been well established. So they would be well advised to tame their glee and restrain their optimism if they should ever attempt to get political mileage out of the situation, especially in the wage negotiations now taking place between the Government and the police.

We are sick and tired of the political gymnastics and do not have the appetite for political footballing in these negotiations. We will watch carefully the kind of statesmanship the PNP brings to these negotiations. We will watch particularly to see if they are stoking the fires of discontent by their rhetoric and not-too-subtle support of the unions.

Public sector salary negotiations and the murder rate are the twin problems with which the Government has to wrestle. The time has come for strong resolve to practically engage these situations. In my view, the protection of life, limb and property take precedence over all other issues that Prime Minister Andrew Holness has to address. It is true that he has a lot on his desk, but he hunted the job and got it. He must now prove to us that he is up to the task and at least appear to be in control of the situation. My prayers are with you, Mr Prime Minister.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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