New ZOSOs to come under Community Renewal Programme-style project

New ZOSOs to come under Community Renewal Programme-style project

By Balford Henry
Senior staff reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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The Government is planning to introduce at least two additional zones of special operation (ZOSOs) early in the new financial year which commences on April 1.

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang made the commitment recently in response to issues raised during the debate on extending the two operating ZOSOs, which are in Mount Salem, St James; and Denham Town in Western Kingston.

The new ZOSOs would become operational under a fresh project based on the proposed Community Renewal Programme (CRP), which is expected to link the ZOSOs to the states of emergency (SOEs) as the next important leap, in facilitating combination of the emergency measures of the SOEs with the social intervention aspects of the ZOSOs.

It is a project which Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been exceptionally cautious in revealing.

In April, 2019, the prime minister said that the Government would, in short order, declare ZOSOs in other violence-prone communities across the country.

He said that the primary challenge was to manage these areas and, at the same time, manage the requests that are being made to maintain the presence of the security forces in the areas that are continually plagued by serious crimes, despite the best efforts of the security forces.

In October, he told the House of Representatives that there was an interest in declaring a ZOSO in Westmoreland. However, he said that a major obstacle that must first be cleared was the capture of western Jamaica's most wanted criminal, Delano “Prekeh Boy” Wilmot, and his gang.

Police say they regard Wilmot as the most elusive gangster since Marlon “Duppy Film” Perry. According to the police, Wilmot is a prominent violence-producer involved in the “guns for drugs” trafficking between Jamaica and Haiti. He has escaped numerous dragnets, primarily because of his familiarity with the rugged and dark hills and the many escape routes through virtual shanty towns where he is feared in western Jamaica.

Although several of his close inner guards have been killed by the police, including his deputy Richard “Cruise” Anderson, he continues to elude law enforcers, and many of the residents of these areas, as well as police, are convinced that he relies on the “strong obeah” he buys from voodoo priests in Haiti.

While not pointing to any particular gang or gangster, Dr Chang, speaking in the House of Representatives, confirmed the Government's fear of pumping resources into areas which are still plagued by criminal gangsters and his apprehension that the resources could end up benefiting the wrong people.

However, virtually baring his soul to the Parliament, Dr Chang responded to Opposition legislators who have been consistently urging the Government to set up ZOSOs in their constituencies, instead of SOEs.

Kingston Eastern and Port Royal Member of Parliament (MP) Phillip Paulwell has become the new voice in promoting this idea, since his speech in the House in June last year when he informed his colleagues of the “acts of terror” being committed in his constituency.

He noted a 33 per cent increase in murders and a 45 per cent leap in shootings since the start of the year. He said that constituents had been calling him “at various hours of the day” about constant gunfire, and have even suggested erecting a buffer zone between the rival communities.

However, the demand for the ZOSOs really started with Opposition MPs Angela Brown Burke (St Andrew South Western) and Anthony Hylton (St Andrew Western), who had consistently promoted ZOSOs over SOEs as the more effective tool for fighting crime and violence, particularly for the injection of social infrastructure funding and the retention of normal citizens' rights.

In fact, Hylton went as far as to criticise the Government for refusing to budge beyond the initial two ZOSOs which, he suggested, was a political act, as he defined both communities as being pro-Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

But, as far as Dr Chang was concerned, the issue was not about politics, but his concern that without the emergency features of the SOE, the ZOSOs would lack the protection of the measures which would still be required to ensure that the social programme is not influenced by the activities of gangsters or other selfish individuals, who are not dedicated to uplifting the communities.

“There will be money in the (2020/21) budget for their expansion into additional areas,” Chang confirmed.

“I want to remind the House that the idea of the ZOSO geographical divisions came out of an original paper done by the Planning Institute of 100 communities, which had significant social and economic impairments that needed special attention,” he said.

“It was called the Community Renewal Programme and, within that framework, some 21 communities have now been identified as high priority areas. All 21, in fact, deserve to have some element of ZOSOs, but we do not have the level of manpower to man all of these simultaneously.

“The prime minister has given a commitment that very early in the new financial year two additional ZOSOs will be implemented,” he added.

Dr Chang also agreed with Opposition MP Horace Dalley that much of the social services being provided inside the ZOSOs could be provided without the cover of the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, which defines the ZOSOs. However, they would not have the security component of the ZOSOs, he noted.

“That is why we have moved to expand the capacity of the security forces,” he told the MPs.

He gave as an example the Jamaica Social Investment Fund Inner City Basic Services Project, which he said is being operated in 16 communities with all the social intervention components of the ZOSOs and more, including physical activities.

He assured Brown Burke, who has probably appealed for ZOSO help more than any other MP in the House, that he is aware that the budget for 2020/21 will include provisions for social intervention in the St Andrew South Police Division, of which her constituency is a part. However, he was reluctant to say any further.

“I am not saying that ZOSOs will be up, but work of that nature will be done,” he admitted.

Dr Chang, the MP for St James North Western which includes areas like Norwood, Salt Spring and a portion of Mount Salem said that despite the intervention of most of the available agencies, the murder rate moved from less than four per 100,000 to 182 per 100,000.

“And all these programmes were there in depth,” an almost frustrated Chang told his colleagues.

“The CSJP (Citizen Security and Justice Programme) has a staff of nearly 50 people based in my constituency, and it is clear from the impact of the ZOSOs that the security foundation is crucial,” he added.

He said that the Government was now looking at how, without the ZOSOs, it can increase the level of security, which would obviously ensure that the benefits of the ZOSOs reach the most vulnerable.

“The issue we had was that many of the current social interventions, as they were executed, benefited individuals significantly,” he noted.

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