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Jamaica tun cow bwoy town!

Paul Golding, DBA

Sunday, December 10, 2017

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Jah Jah city, Jah Jah town, dem waan fi turn it in a cowbwoy town now... (You look you will know). Jah Jah city Jah Jah town dem waan fi turn it in a dead man town y'all.” — Capleton et al

This has not been a good year for the Ministry of National Security, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and by extension Jamaica, from a security perspective. The data clearly indicates that we have become a 'cowbwoy town now...' Murders are projected to be the highest in recorded history, surpassing the unenviable record of 1,683 in 2009. The murder rate for 2016 was 43.21 per 100,000, ranking third in the world behind El Salvador and Honduras; this year the rate is expected to increase by 46 per cent to 63 per 100,000.

As a sidebar, there is a larger regional, hemispheric issue relating to murders as seven of the top 10 countries with the highest murder rate are in the Caribbean and Latin America, with the region firmly controlling the top six spots. Jamaica and Honduras is joined in ignominy by Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador and Guatemala in the top six, while St Kitts and Nevis is in ninth place.

The political response to the surge in murders is the much-touted zones of special operations. The policy and management response must, however, include improved deterrence and social prevention measures as well as law enforcement targeting gangs.

'Outa Road'

Murder is however only one of the factors in the poor evaluation of the ministry and the JCF. Another area is road safety. The Road Safety Unit indicated that Jamaica has been experiencing fluctuation in road fatalities over the past 15 years; with 2002 having the highest fatalities of 408, and 2012 the lowest with 260. There has been a steady increase since 2012, with 2015 registering the highest fatalities in 12 years with 382 deaths.

The quantitative data tells only half the story as the reckless driving and the utter disregard for other road users have reached new levels of distress. The chief perpetrators are taxi drivers. They use the filter lane to go to the front of the line, impeding traffic that indeed wants to filter, or they will just create an additional lane on the other side of the road forcing traffic from the opposite direction to take evasive action. Taxi drivers operate 'inna cow bwoy town' and they seem safe in the knowledge that they can amass 100 tickets and await an amnesty which will wipe their records clean.

The Government manages a traffic fine amnesty akin to a sale. Based on the response from 'consumers' the sale is extended. In making the case for an extension National Security Minister Robert “Bobby” Montague argued, ““Therefore, I am going to be asking my colleagues in Cabinet to give consideration for an extension based on the overwhelming amount of calls to the ministry, to Tax Administration Jamaica, and to the police for an extension.” All that is needed is the tag line “Back by popular demand!”

Two pieces of fact highlight the ineffectiveness of the ticketing system:

(1) The amount owed — $2.2 billion; and

(2) The period covered — September 2010 to July 2017

Shame on the sherrif(s)?

Given the plethora of problems that the Ministry of National Security has in executing his job, Minister Montague has not exactly covered himself in glory. Campaign financing is at the heart of the push by National Integrity Action to reduce the influence of money on the election process. In Jamaica, and all other democracies, individuals and companies purchase influence with an expectation of favours in return, such as lucrative contracts and the like. The challenge, however, is, yes, you have to return the favour [with a contract], but the 'favouree' must be able to execute.

This leads us to the procurement of 200 used cars for the JCF worth approximately $427 million to a company of dubious repute and the consequent inability to execute the contract. The circumstances surrounding this procurement are so farcical, suggesting that people are inept and/or corrupt.

Quoting the prime minister's inauguration speech: “We must teach our children that there is no wealth without work, and no success without sacrifice. We must remove the belief from the psyche of our children that the only way they can step up in life is not by how hard they work but by who they know.” We await the outcome of the investigation surrounding this debacle and the honourable prime minister's response.

Unrelated to the minister of national security, but consistent with the general notion that we are operating in a 'cow bwoy' town is the character witness testimony that Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sports Olivia “Babsy” Grange offered in support of Dr Jephthah Ford. Ford blatantly — the court said so — attempted to pervert the course of justice safe in the knowledge that there was unlikely to be any consequences.

There is congruence in the behaviour of Dr Ford and the typical taxi driver. There is an expectation that there will be no consequence for their behaviour. Minister Grange's emotional plea for Dr Ford is not unlike the public and emotional testimony from Christopher “Dudus” Coke supporters that “Dudus has been good to us!” and “Jesus died for us, we will die for Dudus!” Jamaica a cow bwoy town.

Self-inflicted wound

The JCF management has also shot itself in the foot. There have been several recent media reports of a high attrition rate in the JCF and that the organisation struggles to stem the tide. The data presented by Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake highlights the reality. Over the period 2015 and 2016 the JCF had 739 new recruits, while 1,058 left for various reasons, including resignations, retirement and dismissals. This represents a net loss of 319 staff over two years.

A major cause of this attrition stems from the implementation of the merger of the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) into the JCF. Over 2,000 staff from the ISCF were absorbed into the JCF without the necessary cultural integration which is critical for merger success. Prior to the merger, the ISCF had different working conditions, working hours, training, types of assignments, and there were a skills gap identified by the 'Merger Task Force”. More fundamentally, the JCF and the ISCF regarded one another as competing entities and, based on history, there is/was a superiority-inferiority complex. This merger cock-up has adversely contributed to the high attrition rate which has negatively impacted law enforcement.

This “cow bwoy town” atmosphere is seriously undermining public trust and confidence in the State and is straining the capacity of the courts, health and education sectors, among others. There can be no economic growth and social development unless this trend is reversed and this atmosphere changed. This is an existential problem in which many feel hopeless and see crime, violence, lawlessness, and crude behaviour as ingrained as genetics. We have developed a high tolerance for crime, but 2017 is pushing us to what must be the tipping point.

The collar of white

The trend has to be reversed. The investigative capacity of the JCF must be upgraded to improve clear-up rates for crimes involving guns, drugs and extortion. Additionally, we must ramp up efforts at dismantling gangs and crime syndicates to deter violent crime. Social capital must be built to improve community resilience. However, most importantly, “Efforts to create a just society must be regarded as a priority. Until people begin to feel that all persons are equal before the law and that they are not being discriminated against socially or economically, crime will continue to flourish. To this end, the curtailing of white collar crimes is as important as the curtailing of gun crimes. We must flush out the perpetrators of white collar crimes with the same zeal and energy that we use to flush out the perpetrators of gun crimes.” (Wolfe Report 1991) Without this paradigm shift Jamaica will continue on the road of being a cow bwoy town.

Professor Paul Golding is dean of the College of Business and Management, University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or pgolding@utech.edu,jm.

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