SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth —Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has questioned the Government's motives in light of what he says has been its failure to adequately deal with crime including the "destructive" lotto scam.
"One has to wonder if there is some kind of special interest or connection, why the Government doesn't move with speed and alacrity to put in place legislation to help the police to fight the lottery scam, one has to wonder," Holness told Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) delegates and party workers at Top Hill, South East St Elizabeth on Friday.
Pointing out that scammers habitually use stolen data from the ICT sector to "con" people overseas, Holness said that the practice was destroying "business opportunities that could be possible for Jamaica in the sector," because many potential investors were staying away from Jamaica "with a long stick".
Noting that the ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) sector "can carry the jobs that we so badly need", Holness said, "We don't see the Government moving with speed and alacrity to address this issue."
National security minister Peter Bunting was recently reported by the Government's information arm, the Jamaica Information Service, as saying the administration is planning to amend the Evidence Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Larceny Act, as part of a drive to strengthen legislation to combat lotto scamming. Bunting reportedly said that the Government also wants to enact an Advanced Free Fraud Act which would make it an offence to possess certain "paraphernalia" associated with scamming.
Holness, who has been touring the country, meeting and greeting delegates ahead of the JLP's upcoming annual conference on November 18, a delegates-only confab, also questioned the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government's commitment to arresting traditional forms of crime and the perceived surge in criminal activity in farming communities such as Top Hill.
"Somebody say to me, Why is it that when PNP in power crime goes up? Is it because people believe that the PNP Government is a free-for-all Government? Is it that the PNP is just a lawless Government? We have to consider that carefully because we don't see any significant effort on the part of government to control crime in this country," Holness said.
Holness, who was prime minister for a brief period leading up to the JLP's defeat in last December's parliamentary election, following the resignation of Bruce Golding, said that his Government had left anti-gang legislation ready to be tabled but the current Government had dragged its feet.
"As a responsible Government, we realised that crime has several driving forces behind it. The main one is organised crime. That is the one that the Government must deal with first and foremost. We (last JLP administration) managed to break many of the criminal networks that existed and the anti-gang legislation, that Bill, when we left it, was ready to be tabled and passed in Parliament. To this day it isn't done and that piece of legislation is important to assist the police in fighting crime," Holness said.
Bunting had said that the anti-gang legislation had to be reviewed because of concerns by the police about its likely effectiveness. He has repeatedly said that the revamped legislation will be tabled soon. However at least one timeline, reportedly given by the minister, has been missed.
Holness, who has ancestral roots in South East St Elizabeth, contended that the Government's approach to fighting crime was fuelling the unlawful movement towards vigilantism in some communities.
"Labourites, let me say to you plainly, the community in which you live is a hard-working community. You are farmers and business people, decent, honest, industrious, hard-working people ... there are many communities like this in Jamaica that I consider to be at risk of being destroyed by crime, so crime is not just affecting the urban areas.
"It is showing its ugly head in rural and suburban communities like this. I urge the Government to take the necessary actions to prevent that from happening because the real Jamaica is right here in your community. We can't justify vigilante action and I want to say to you, don't participate in vigilante action, but when you see this increase in vigilante action you know that the citizens are very concerned that the Government not doing anything about crime so they must act on it," he said.
Official figures released by the Police High Command in mid-year showed a three per cent increase in murders compared to the same period last year, but a decline in other major crimes.
Police sources said that there was "a spike" in armed robberies in St Elizabeth in August and September.
Last month's gun murder of a female vendor and farmer and the wounding of her husband by robbers in the remote farming district of Tryall, just a few miles from Top Hill, has heightened fear in South East St Elizabeth.