Great need for an adequate social security blanket

Monday, October 15, 2012    

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NATIONAL heroes most familiar with Jamaica's modern realities, Rt Excellent Norman Washington Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante, would have seen the crime problem taking hold of Jamaica long before they departed the scene.

We daresay, however, they would have been extremely disappointed to discover, four decades later, the Jamaican society still at the mercy of criminals to the extent that it is.

They would be particularly sad that our women and girls are foremost victims.

As Jamaicans prepared to celebrate yet another National Heroes Day, many would have read the depressing tale as told by Senior Superintendent Derrick Knight that some young girls reported as "missing" are actually taking refuge from powerful criminals or 'dons' who 'rule' their communities.

"These gunmen go into the communities and demand the young girls. A lot of the times we hear that the 13- and 14-year-old girls are missing, that is not really so in several cases... In a lot of cases the mothers are forced to send them to hide and then report them missing, because the don had come and said 'me want her tomorrow night'," says Mr Knight.

Notwithstanding the defeat of a few leading dons in recent years, none of what Mr Knight had to say in his interview with Mr HG Helps comes as 'news' to those of us who keep our ears to the grass roots.

The truth is that 'donmanism' has become so ingrained in large swathes of the Jamaican society that it won't go away in a hurry. In the first place, as we have said time and again in this space, it didn't develop without good reason. The 'dons' gained power first of all because the State abdicated its responsibilities in the poorest communities; failing to provide basic social services which underworld figures, involved in all sorts of profitable criminality while using the community as cover, ended up providing — at least partially.

Perverse as it may seem, such men, and indeed the communities themselves, evolved to a stage where it was felt that 'godfathers' had a moral right to sexual and other favours. Over time, a culture of absolute loyalty to the 'big man' in the community became ingrained, even as suspicion, distrust and dislike for the formal authority structure grew.

Dons are usually instinctively cruel and vengeful, not averse to extreme violence when crossed, which is why ordinary, law-abiding residents of the inner cities are so afraid. But the core reason for the power and influence wielded by the dons, and their success in keeping the formal authorities at bay, flowed first from their reputation as benefactors and protectors in the absence of the State.

Sadly, ensuring that the poorest among us are able to eat, send their children to school and get basic health care, even if they are unable to immediately find a job, has never been adequately addressed by the society and successive governments. The Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education, we are sorry to have to say, is woefully inadequate.

Until the society gets around to establishing an adequate social security blanket to protect our most impoverished, the 'donman' culture, crime and anti-social behaviour will persist. And until the dons and criminals are brought to heel, the society will not be able to help our more troubled communities become self-sustaining — socially and economically.

These are among the aspects that the Government and the International Monetary Fund must address frontally as they set about reaching an agreement on expenditure cuts and fiscal discipline aimed at the ultimate repair of the flawed Jamaican economy.

The survivability of the poorest Jamaicans in our most troubled communities must not be divorced from other economic realities.

The burden of corrective action must not be so heavy that Jamaicans are unable to bear. To summarise Mr Chris Zacca of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the medicine should not be such that the patient ends up dead.





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