Columns

Jamaica... still a problem

Lloyd B Smith

Tuesday, January 07, 2014    

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For the over two million visitors that have graced our shores in recent times it may well be a case of "Jamaica... No problem, mon!" But what about the rest of us who reside on this rock called home?

Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States of America (USA), after New York and Los Angeles, with some 2.7 million residents, while its metropolitan area comprises some 9.5 million people. The "Windy City" as it is popularly known has the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of the USA. Last year, some 500 persons were killed, many of them victims of gangland warfare involving Black Americans. What I find amazing is that Jamaica -- which has a population of some 2.5 million human beings -- in 2013 racked up homicides totalling over 1,000!

According to Wikipedia, "Some areas of Jamaica, particularly cities such as Kingston, Montego Bay and Spanish Town, experience high levels of crime and violence. Jamaica has had one of the highest murder rates in the world for many years, according to United Nations estimates. Former Prime Minister P J Patterson described the situation as "a national challenge of unprecedented proportions".

In this vein, one of the most unenviable jobs in Jamaica is to be the minister of national security. Indeed, no such minister -- in living memory -- has ever been able to make an indelible mark on that portfolio. Minister after minister has bitten the dust as public opinion condemns them to Never-Never Land. One suspects that some of these honourable men took on that task believing that they could make a difference, only to eventually find out that it is a deadend road -- no pun intended. Perhaps that is why the incumbent, Peter Bunting, in apparent frustration, recently tearfully appealed for divine intervention.

Needless to say that the big mistake still being made by the powers that be is to hold the minister solely responsible for whether crime goes up or down, and successive ministers have foolishly bought into this idea that they are expected to be St George that slays the dragon. Until this country comes to the conclusion that crime is everybody's business, and that the minister is but one cog in the wheel then the blame game will continue unabated. To put it bluntly, neither the minister of national security nor the police commissioner, or both, can by themselves fight crime effectively on any sustainable basis. So, for all intents and purposes, we will continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.

As someone once said: "We in Jamaica, our hearts are laced with larceny." In other words, "We tief bad." Chicanery, "bandoolooism", "jinalship", "Anancyism", however you may wish to name or describe it, is a national pastime. Whether we want to admit it or not, ours is a crime economy,so much so that it is no secret that the underground economy far outstrips the formal economy; and that, in Jamaica, doing business is primarily an under-the-table and greasing-of-the-palm activity. That is why corruption is so rampant in the Jamaican society, because it has become the norm rather than the exception -- ah no nutten! -- and this situation is further aggravated by an economy that is influenced too much by the politics of scarce benefits and spoils.

Undoubtedly, it is ironic that, while we do everything possible to protect the tourist, there is the belief that violence must be met with violence, and one criminal act should lead to another. Hence the prevalence of vigilante killings by angry mobs, the frequency of extrajudicial killings by the police, and the overwhelming view of most Jamaicans that capital punishment should be reintroduced in the penal system.

In this context of desperation and hopelessness, many Jamaicans have given up and are living in constant fear. The harsh truth is that Jamaica getting two million tourists per year is, in the final analysis, no big thing; as we have the potential to welcome five million per year if we deal with the crime problem once and for all.

Public safety must be the top priority of any government that truly has the people's interest at heart. Crime-fighting should therefore be the priority of those who govern. The abject poverty that exists in many communities across the island, the high cost of living (and dying), the lack of gainful employment, as well as the many inequities and iniquities that plague this post-slavery, post-colonial nation are symptoms of the lack of visionary planning and proactive implementation. The problem with Jamaica is Jamaicans, and until we can instill in each individual the need for everyone taking responsibility for himself or herself then the economy will never improve and social decay will persist with a vengeance.

This year will be a most challenging one in more ways than one. To begin with, how the Government and ultimately all of Jamaica deal with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will determine, in a real way, whether we sink or float.

The bottom line is that the people cannot take much more by way of taxes, and if the fiscal whip is to be utilised then there must be enough carrots that are dangled to appease the poor and oppressed. The dependence syndrome which has been encouraged and perpetuated by our political culture must once and for all be expunged, but this writer is well aware that the process of weaning individuals off handouts (dubbed "incentives" when given to the privileged) must be gradual so as not to create a social upheaval. But it must be done if we are to become a truly productive and prosperous nation.

It is my wish that every Jamaican will begin to take full responsibility for his or her action in this new year and to chart a course of self-sufficiency rather than dependency. Let us all vow to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Enough said!

Lloyd B Smith is a member of Parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.

lloydbsmith@hotmail.com

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