ONLINE READERS COMMENT: ZOSO is brilliant public relations

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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Apart from giving citizens a sense of surety that the Government is doing something about crime, the zones of special operations (ZOSO) initiative is not a long term solution to crime.

Despite the mishaps about the figures used to select Mount Salem as the first zone of operation, side lining the Minister of National Security in the whole process and the perceived politicisation of its roll out, the ZOSO has achieved its objective of calming the fears of the populace. This is brilliant public relations. Much of politics is good PR, an art that Andrew Holness has mastered to a fault.

The ZOSO cannot seriously put a dent in crime because it does not deal with the root causes of crime. But, one thing is sure, the fact that Holness was bold enough to come up with something to address the problem means he has a distinct electoral advantage when it comes to messaging on crime.

Whether it's a failure or not, ZOSO will be Holness' legacy and one can't blame him for milking the PR value of it. When the dust of history has cleared on the smoke and mirrors that is ZOSO, there has to be a long-term strategic initiative that will take its place as a deeper and more sustained approach to our perennial problem of crime.

The Peace Management Initiative (PMI) is already one such existing initiative.

The PMI is Peter Phillip's legacy in respect of national security; he was just a few years too early with the idea and as such won't be able to benefit from the PR around its successes. Time has not been kind to Peter Phillips.

Phillips is not a man given to vain glory and is not well attuned to the art of optics in the same way that Holness is, but, if the odds he faces against his astute political opponent are to improve, he must begin to champion and re-imagine the PMI as the counter-narrative to the ZOSO initiative. This should have been the main focus of his maiden speech as party leader. That was a missed opportunity.

The work of the PMI is indeed slow and tedious, as any initiative aimed at reversing a culture of violence through social engineering is bound to be, but no one doubts its effectiveness. The Opposition has been vocal in its criticisms of ZOSO because they know that it makes for effective political communication. However, opposing an initiative that the populace is demanding is not wise politics. The ZOSO is a clear win for the ruling party on the political narrative surrounding crime.

For all its faults, the ZOSO is a step in the right direction. Jamaicans at home and abroad, just wanted something to be done about crime, anything would do really — just show you are doing something. Holness has delivered and quite brilliantly at that. The ZOSO will be for Holness what the Economic Reform Programme was for Peter Phillips when he served as finance minister. It would come as no surprise if he were named Man of the Year in the same way Phillips was.

Just the term ZOSO itself conjures up an image of safety and security; never mind that criminals are still running rampant. The language and optics of ZOSO are powerful communication tools, which cannot be distanced from the long-term electoral strategy that Holness has been crafting since his time in the political wilderness. Holness has learnt that the biggest fool in the world is he who merely does his work supremely well, without attending to appearance.

Phillips has yet to learn this lesson and it might well be too late for him for he is a man who believes his work should speak for itself.

Developing a political campaign around ZOSO will not be difficult for the governing party in the next election cycle. In fact, the groundwork for such a campaign has already been laid with the robust communications programme, which Holness has rolled out for the ZOSO. Apart from divine intervention, what can the Opposition point to as a recent initiative that it has implemented to address our most pressing problem of crime?

Holness crafted ZOSO as what he hoped would have been a genuine solution to the crime problem but in the process he has created a political gold mine that has rebuilt public confidence and solidified his political leadership. Unless a major scandal erupts, there is no stopping him now.

Christopher Grant

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