Violence destroying Jamaica's business spirit


Thursday, February 14, 2013

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JAMAICANS have been experiencing a spate of killings recently. Notable, instance, the brutal gun-slaying of noted businessman Melvin Chung has horrified the nation. I was introduced to Chung by an associate mine approximately three months ago and, from what I could recall from that short meeting, he seemed to be a very nice and humble person.

We are losing too many of our businessmen to violence. Only recently another businessman was robbed of his cellular phone and shot dead by a robber off Saxthorpe Avenue. One can also recall the slaying of LG Brown, noted proprietor of LG gas station.

It seems that every week we lose at least one businessman to violence. This cannot be allowed to continue as we are losing out on investments provided by these entrepreneurs and businessmen. One should also recall when noted businessmen Maurice Azan and his stepson Lloyd Phang were brutally slain at their business place in May Pen in 2005.

There seems to be a common thread here. These heinous crimes all involved the use of guns. One should also recall that the 1980 election was preceded b the gun-slayings of scores of business persons in the Corporate Area which led to an increase in migration rates of those business persons who survived.

The Jamaica Observer (December 2005) reported that, in response to the murders of Phang and Azan, there was a national outcry from private sector bosses at the time, who demanded that businesses be closed at least for a half a day. The Observer (December 2005) also reported that the Private Sector Organisation Of Jamaica (PSOJ) lobbied for politicians to sign a code of conduct, distancing themselves from gunmen. However, the crime and murder trends continue unabated until this day.

Crime and the level of growth

How are we going to deal with this monster? The former United States Attorney General, the notable Ramsey Clark, explains in his book Crime in America that "some crimes are acts of momentary irrationality by people who will never commit another serious crime" (p 227). Clark further states: "Murder, a crime of passion, is often such an act" (p 227). However, this has not been the case in Jamaica, as the opposite holds true. It would seem that the more people commit crime in this country, the more people are inclined to commit another crime. This has been proven by the fact that our own penal system has been dealing with repeat offenders. JJ Tobias, in his book Crime and industrial Society in the 19th century, quoted Robert Owen as saying: "If the poor cannot procure employment, and are not supported, they must commit crimes, or starve" (p150). There might be some relevance in this statement as there seems to be a correlation between the level of employment and crime in Jamaica.

According to a discussion paper by the PSOJ on Crime, Violence and Justice (2007), empirical research has shown that there is a direct correlation between the high rate of youth unemployment (or underemployment) and crime. According to The Sunday Gleaner (June 2011) a United Nations World Bank Study noted that there was a link between growth and lower crime rates. This would suggest that the reverse is true: There is some link between negative growth and higher crime rates.

JJ Tobias also noted that the expansion of towns and cities also caused an increase in the crime rate as there was a general migration of folks from the country to the suburbs, thereby causing massive social strain on the economy. Moreover, the judicial system was overburdened with this new urban growth.

Policy for gun control imminent

How are we going to deal with this growing crime problem? We have to urgently pay attention to the issue of firearms. According to William Vizzard in his book Shots in the dark: the Policy, Politics, and Symbolism of Gun Control (2000), "the firearms market has attracted far less attention than the relationship between firearms and crime. Nonetheless, the market constitutes a key component for understanding firearms policy, the reasons for policy stalemate, and the potential for formulating future policy (p 21). Vizzard (2000) further states that the problem seems to stem from the illegal market due to the fact that "the dominant cultural belief in minimising government intervention in private behaviour and minimising the burden on 'reputable' citizens has led to a strategy focused on denying firearms to high-risk persons, primarily felons, mental incompetents, and minors-with minimum impact on other citizens" (p 27). Arising from this statement, one is led to believe that these illegal guns have been acquired by unauthorised persons (other than high-risk persons and mental felons) in the US and somehow managed to find themselves on Jamaican shores.

Loopholes still exist for the guns to leak into the country. Vizzard (2000) also reveals that studies show that people obtain illegal guns from the most easily available source such as licenced retail dealers in the United States, and some have been obtained from their own friends. However, Vizzard (2000) explains that the policy changes do not take place until the larger population of the United States has a legitimate public concern and hence embrace the significance of such changes. One should be cognisant of the fact that we face a similar situation in Jamaica due to the fact that entrepreneurs are now affected that there is now cause for concern among business leaders more than ever.

Wendy Cukier and Victor Sidel (2006), in their book The Global Gun Epidemic argued that surveys conducted revealed that legal firearms are sold on the illegal markets, which cause an increase in crime in addition to political conflicts. What is alarming is the fact that Cukier and Sidel (2006) states: "In the United States there are almost as many guns as people, roughly 220 million, almost one-third of all the guns in the world" (p8). That is enough guns to annihilate the total population of Jamaica! Due to the proximity of Jamaica to the United States, it would seem that most of the guns are acquired from the US market.

One cannot help but notice that the evening news always has an account of a homicide, and most involve the use of guns. Moreover, Cukier and Sidel (2006) posit that the global firearms industry is "increasingly shifting its focus to civilian markets, which is much larger than the military market" (p 87). Now that is very interesting indeed.

Cukier and Sidel (2006) also argued that to counter the illegal trade of small arms worldwide, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) was created in 1998 to "prevent the proliferation and unlawful use of light weapons" (p 225). Ogilvie (1999), cited in Dhaapala, Rana and Lumpe (1999) in their book Small Arms Control: Old weapons, new issues, noted that most of the weapons recovered by police in their operations were used for the gun trade and sometimes were stolen from licensed firearm holders. Ogilvie (1999) also states that these weapons are used to intimidate witnesses, eliminate opposition, commit acts of robbery, etc. This means that the Government should continue diverting its resources in the fight for crime.

Implications for Jamaica

Therefore, from this standpoint, the Jamaican Government should develop policies that will deter the illegal flow of these guns into the island. The Government needs to urgently address the issue of firearms control if we need investments to trek back towards our shores. The re-elected United States President, Barack Obama has promised that his administration will seriously address the issue of gun control in his second term of office. The Jamaican Government should take this opportunity to work with the United States and also by collaborating with the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). If the guns are eliminated from our shores, then investors will be willing to invest in this country once more.

Daniel Morgan is an accounting officerat the University of the West Indies and is also an MBA student at the Mona School of Business




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