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Crime draining the economy, Manchester business leaders told

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND
Staff reporter
sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The service sector, including business process outsourcing (BPO), mining and agriculture — all key industries for central Jamaica — were identified among areas experiencing serious effects of crime at a forum here recently.

Security experts told the monthly meeting of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce at the Golf View Hotel that the multidimensional nature of crime calls for innovation and collective efforts to prevent sustained negative implications for the economy.

“For the first time in Jamaica, included in an IMF (International Monetary Fund) agreement were measures and benchmarks related to citizens' security and public safety,” said National Security Advisor Major General Antony Anderson in a keynote address.

He said that in the fight against crime, even if there is a reduction in the statistical numbers, there is still a big problem as long as citizens feel unsafe.

“Figures are one thing; it's how people feel not just here in Manchester but nationally. Even if crime figures are trending down, if people don't feel that effect, then of course it's really not real. Even if crime figures are going down, as long as violence is going up then we can take no comfort because there is one thing to lose things, but violence brings it much closer to home, it brings it to the person and so that's a greater concern,” said Anderson.

Lieutenant Commander George Overton, who is director of operations at Guardsman Security, told the gathering that the productivity of the workforce is impacted because of crime. He told stories of employees in his organisation disclosing that they are sleep-deprived because of gunshots in their communities.

He said that profit margins are being negatively affected in key sectors.

“If we… look at what crime has done to agriculture, that's headlines almost every day. Every farmer who plants or raises livestock in any parish in this country runs the significant risk of losing either the crop or having his livestock slaughtered and stolen. With that we then become more dependent on imports,” he said.

Overton said that for farmers who get the products out to export, sometimes it is being contaminated with contraband, usually drugs. The result is that exporters are blacklisted or shipments face excessive scrutiny and delays at ports, and the process then becomes a burden.

“When you look at the mining sector…What comes with it?” he asked rhetorically, “They call it liquid gold, the theft of fuel,” he said.

He said that “a small fortune” has to be spent by mining interests to protect fuel. Extra measures are also needed to safeguard metals and equipment from criminal operators in the scrap metal sector.

“These things all have a significant impact because we are mining bauxite here, but if the cost of mining is extraordinarily high we can't be competitive on the world market. Our bauxite exports are less because of the high cost of the production,” said Overton.

As for the BPO sector, he said that it comes with its own challenges as businesses are sometimes not able to maximise the office space as effectively because of fears of employees commuting to and from work too late.

“What causes growth in the BPO sector is that you are able to do work on this side of the world for people who are asleep on the other side of the world. If we can't run 24-7 we lose opportunities, and if there is another region who can offer that opportunity of running 24-7, it's only a matter of time that we start to lose the opportunities that we have gained through the BPO sector,” said Overton.

The cost of doing thorough background checks in recruitment is also an additional expense for businesses, he said.

Overton said that when the cost of doing business becomes too high, operators are forced to increase the price of goods and services to stay afloat and, by extension, the standard of living is diminished for many consumers.

Tourism, he said, is another major sector being stifled due to crime.

Overton said that critically the justice system needs to work more efficiently in order to get a handle on crime.

Assistant Commissioner of Police-designate for Area 3 (Manchester, Clarendon, St Elizabeth) Clifford Chambers said that initiatives already in place in tandem with strategies from the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) branch where he has served will form the brand of policing he intends to provide in central Jamaica.

Anderson insisted that zones of special operation is only one of the crime-fighting tools in national security.

“Zones alone is not going to solve crime in Jamaica. You need a suite of tools,” he said, adding that social interventions are also essential and the pool of unattached youth needs to be narrowed.

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