Why can PM Holness, Dr Phillips co-operate on a fire, but not on crime?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

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We mourn deeply for the two children who perished Tuesday in that accursed fire at Walker's Place of Safety on Lyndhurst Crescent in Kingston. Alas, it seems the more things change the more they remain the same.

After the Armadale fire — which killed seven girls in 2009, triggering a commission of enquiry — there were all kinds of recommendations to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. Six of the girls were awarded a total of $20 million for breaches of their constitutional rights.

If Tuesday's fire suggests that nothing much has changed in respect of the safety of the girls in such State homes, then we hope that, at the very least, the Walker's Place of Safety incident could point the way to an approach to solving our crime problem.

Right after the fire, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in whose St Andrew East Central constituency it happened, pledged to launch a fund to assist in rebuilding the home.

Within minutes of that pledge, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who also visited the scene, vowed to assist Dr Phillips in raising funds for the rebuilding project. We stoutly applaud the two leaders for the speed with which they found common cause.

It is that ability to forget party lines and come together to find a solution to a crisis that we wish to once again commend to our leaders; this time in respect of crime and murder specifically.

Since we last called for a bipartisan campaign to unite the country in the fight against crime, things have got decidedly worse. Murders are up above 60 since the start of the year and the United States has issued a travel advisory which could hurt our all-important tourism earnings.

We were seriously expecting that coming out of the Cabinet retreat last week that we would have heard of an initiative, anything, to revive hopes that something effective could be done about reducing the murder toll. The Government's silence is deafening. No one could be blamed for interpreting that to mean the Administration is now bankrupt of ideas.

It is in that context that the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) on Monday reported that crime and violence “is still seen as the number one problem facing the country”.

“Again we note that the murder figures are above 60 since the start of the year, and that is alarming. Businesses are therefore making the point quite clear that the biggest drawback to the realisation of all that they are looking forward to is the level of crime,” according to the JCC's fourth-quarter summary report.

We believe that if Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Dr Peter Phillips can come together so swiftly over the Walker's Place of Safety fire, they should be even more quickly close ranks to surround the criminals who are wreaking wanton destruction in our nation.

Otherwise, we would certainly be forced to the conclusion that the tragic fire and the death of the two girls are being used purely as public relations gimmickry.

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