Career & Education

Fight corruption with equal ferocity as crime

Canute Thompson

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness's display of determination and grit in fighting crime must be commended, notwithstanding the fact that the chief duty of the State is the safety and security of citizens.

As at January 1, 2019 the report card for 2018 showed that there were reductions in all categories of crime reported in 2018 over 2017. In respect of murders, there has been an overall 21.9 per cent reduction in the police division, and in the parish of St James a reduction of 70.1 per cent was experienced. The police division of St James was followed by Kingston Central — which does not have a state of emergency (SOE) in effect — recording a reduction of 40.7 per cent, and in third position was Manchester — which also does not have an SOE — seeing a 32.6 per cent reduction. Of the 19 police divisions 12 recorded declines in 2018 over 2017, and of those 12 there were SOEs in three.

The year 2017 was not our best year, but it was not as bad our worst. With 2018 being better than 2019, the next frontier is for 2019 to be better than 2018.


In January 2017 the prime minister, while speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for ATL Autobahn, stated that the government had to “get a handle on crime”. In a report carried in The Gleaner on January 22, 2017 under the headline of a quote attributed to the prime minister — 'Crime an obstacle to Jamaica's success' — he was further quoted as saying:

“This Government is determined to do it [take on crime head-on]. We have learnt the lessons of the past and therefore we will do it with respect for human rights. We will do it through education. We will do it through collaboration, and we will do it by being just and firm and strategic in how we go about dealing with the criminals.”

Here the prime minister made it clear that being “firm and strategic” in how criminals are treated does not mean a descent into the abuse of human rights.

In his statement to Parliament on September 12, 2017, in discussing the impending zone of special operations (ZOSO), Prime Minister Holness again spoke to the need to respect human rights while being firm with criminals. He said: “Mr Speaker, the history of intervention by the State shows that an over-reliance on policing measures may attenuate the situation in the short term but does not bring long-term stability and normalisation. Any strategy to address these areas must be comprehensive, sustained, inclusive, and respectful of human rights and the dignity of the people.

Thus, the ostensible position of the Government was clear; confronting crime required a sustainable policing strategy, not simply targeting criminals. The case for confronting crime is compelling. Crime is a cost to the economy. On February 4, 2017 the Jamaica Observer reported on an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB study which found that crime gobbles up about four per cent of Jamaica's gross domestic product (GDP). These findings were consistent with that of a 2003 study by group of The University of the West Indies (UWI) researchers, led by Professor Al Francis, which estimated that health costs associated with crime were 0.4 per cent of GDP, lost production was 0.2 per cent, and expenditure on security was 3.1 per cent; giving a total of 3.7 per cent of GDP. The Gleaner, in its editorial of September 19, 2016, reaffirmed this cost estimate of 3.7 per cent.


In the utterances and assurances of the Government concerning its philosophy on crime broadly, and policing, more specifically, three important positions have emerged namely:

(i) respect for human rights,

(ii) the intention not to over-rely on short-term solutions, and

(iii) engagement of comprehensive and sustainable solutions.

In these three assurances, as well as the other commitments given by the prime minister, we see the makings of a crime plan, and that crime plan appears to have been ZOSO.

Thus, in the said September 12, 2017 speech to Parliament, the Holness said:

“The zone of special operations is, first and foremost, a mandate to secure the right to life of all citizens. While the preservation of life in the zones is of utmost priority, it is likewise critical that success be measured by this strategy's ability to build confidence in legitimate State structures and re-establish an overwhelming sense of citizenship in place of fear. This will ensure the sovereignty of the State across all communities and will safeguard against the return of criminals and the unlawful control of communities through exploitation and intimidation.”

While we may infer from the utterances of the prime minister that the ZOSOs were its crime plan, the Government has refused to say so, and perhaps we now know why; for the ZOSO in St James was eclipsed by the SOE, which represents everything that the ZOSO is not.

The chief difference between the SOE and the ZOSO was articulated by no less a person than the former national security advisor and now Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson, who told Parliament that, although less than four per cent of the men, women, and children detained under the SOE were charged, “many of them deserve to be detained”.

This assertion of the commissioner of police largely explains the refusal of the Government to give space for the voice of former detainees to be heard or to proclaim ZOSO as its crime plan.

Under the ZOSOs, the police cannot arbitrarily pick up youth and detain them, and the argument of the Government and others that the SOE is responsible for the reduction in crime is a flawed analysis, given, as was shown above, that drastic reductions occurred in areas that were and are not under an SOE.

There are two other major differences between ZOSOs and SOEs: A ZOSO is a comprehensive intervention, while an SOE is all about force. A ZOSO is a long-term strategy, while an SOE is a short-term fix. Given the prime minister's apparent recognition of the need not to over-rely on tough, short-term measures, his insistence in continuing an SOE in St James, after having one there for 12 months, represents not only a shift in philosophy and strategy, but is a bad decision. And the assertion by the police commissioner that “many deserve to be detained” is a dangerous and ominous position.

But the mindset of the Government and its former national security advisor and current police commissioner is clear: SOEs are preferred to ZOSOs.

A former senior police officer confirmed to me that ZOSOs was really intended to be SOEs by another name, and which would be available as a tool of the Government without having to seek parliamentary approval. This was also agreed with me by a senior Jamaica Defence Force officer. Thus we can now conclude that tough policing, which will involve detention without charge of many youth, and the same being deemed deserving, is the crime plan.

In this regard, we see the return of the failed Suppression of Crime Act. We are once again sowing to the wind and will repeat the whirlwind. We cannot abuse human rights and expect that there will be no consequences. We cannot antagonise poor, black youth and expect sustained peace and good relations with law enforcement. We are in a dangerous place and have heard with our ears.


The Government's firm, though partly flawed, stance on crime, and its resoluteness in dealing with same, needs to be applied — minus the flaws — in dealing with corruption. The 2017 United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Vanderbilt Latin America Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) Survey found that corruption remains one of the biggest problems facing Jamaica. The US State Department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) for 2017 report found that corruption remains entrenched and widespread in Jamaica and sucks five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) annually from the economy.

I have called on the Prime Minister Holness to appoint himself the “chief apostle” of anti-corruption, but we do not hear the prime minister out front attacking corruption as aggressively and as consistently as he is attacking crime. Both pose the same level of danger to the society and they feed on each other.

The major difference between crime and corruption, in my view — at least the crimes which occupy the police's attention for the most part — is that crime is a 'small man t'ing', while corruption is the 'big man t'ing'.

Could it be that the social differences in the characteristics of crime and corruption, on the one hand, and the differences in the level of energy invested by the Government and leadership shown by the prime minister in tackling each, on the other hand, suggest that the Government is either unwilling or afraid to tackle corruption given who the players are?

The inequality of attention in allocation of resources to fighting crime versus corruption does not spur confidence in the Government's commitment to probity, transparency, and good governance.

It is now a month since the famous press conference on the audit report on Petrojam and I have heard nothing about any of the measures and promises being actioned.

Will there be a forensic audit of oil losses and the $90-million fence which should have cost $30 million?

Will companies which collected money and offered no value for money be blacklisted?

Will we learn the details of the separation of the human resource manager?

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or

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