Special crimes zones Bill a test of PM Holness's resolve


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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The special crime zones Bill has been making its way through the Houses of Parliament should soon be signed by the governor general, thus becoming law. The Bill was vigorously debated by members of the two chambers of Parliament and it is good that this was so, as any such debate, especially on Bills that will have far-reaching consequences on the lives of Jamaican citizens must be robust, if even cantankerous at times.

What we do not need is simplistic, non-productive comments of the kind that was made by Senator Sophia Frazer Binns, in her contribution, when she concluded that she will not support the Bill for what we need is Jesus and not another crime Bill.

In a country like Jamaica, given to strong Christian leanings, one can well understand the senator's suggestion for divine intervention. It is not only her but other members of Government who seem to be smitten by the thought that by merely calling upon the name of God miraculous changes will occur in the country's circumstances for the better.

Such simplistic notions ignore the voice of God and the demands of the gospel to love one another. They ignore the situations of injustice and the practice of a rugged individualism that has no concern for the plight of the neighbour. They present a worship of God which reveals a vast gap between what we believe and what we practise.

As a so-called Christian society we treat people with contempt and condescension and then, when problems arise as a result of their denigration, we bawl out to God and hope that he will rend the heavens and come to our aid. But I am sorry that I have to disappoint those who believe in God as a stopgap God who will stick his fingers in every dyke of human misery, thus setting right what man has turned into rubble. The God presented to me in the Judeo-Christian framework does not operate like that. He is not governed by the fancies or foibles of men. He has demonstrated how life is to be lived. As the prophet Micah prophesied, he has shown thee, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of us but to have mercy, to do justly, and live humbly with our God (Micah 6: 8).

It is not more of Jesus we need, Senator Frazer Binns, but more people who are willing to live by and practise the authentic truths he has left us. We need more people who are willing to put their faith on the line, as he did, to stand up for justice and the liberation of the human spirit from all kinds of bondage that hold them in check. We need less 'Churchianity' and more of the practise of loving discipleship that he urged on his early followers and by extension those down through the ages who become his disciples.

This brings me to the special zones Bill and the concern that it is in the rebuilding process in the communities that the real problem lies in taming the crime monster for the long run. My fear, as I mentioned in my last piece, 'Rebuilding the communities the hardest part of the crimes Bill', is that is easy for the security forces to move into a community with overwhelming force, clear it of criminals, and hold it against any resurgence of violence. Without the element of surprise, the criminal gunmen may have long left the community for other areas, especially if they were tipped off about the impending raid. But notwithstanding this, it is the rebuilding process that presents the greatest challenge.

My concern is twofold. Firstly, having cleared the community of the 'bad' men and created a period of tranquillity, how soon will the social intervention process begin, and how robust will this be? Having begun, how sustained will be the effort, and will atrophy and lethargy be allowed to creep in? I raise these questions because, to repeat, we are a country given to nine-day wonders and to wonderful announcements of grandiose schemes; but we are very short on implementation and sustained presence to make projects work, especially in the building of social capital.

There should be no illusion about the amount of work that rebuilding will entail. My fear is that the old scatter-shot or eclectic approach, where a few loose-fitting programmes are strung together and plastered on the communities within the special zones, may become dominant. This will be a recipe for failure. What will be required is a sustained, comprehensive, and integrated approach that will pull the social agencies of Government together so there will not be useless duplication of effort and money. There must be a role for an expanded HEART programme in these communities to enhance skills training and talent development. There must be expanded roles for the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and Social Development Commission.

Perhaps a social secretariat could be established for this task. It should be made up of Government, Opposition and civil society members, including the Church. There need not be any reinvention of the wheel or any useless study because there are enough studies that exist which can be condensed and tweaked to serve the present task. Neither do we need talking heads or egos that are impatient of massage.

We need people who are willing to work hard and stay the course against all kinds of criticisms that are bound to come. It will take people who have the moral conviction of what needs to be done and who are not in it for what they can get from it — motivated, selfless individuals who want to see that results occur for the good of the community and the country. But you will say to me that such people do not exist in Jamaica anymore since so many are given to selfish pursuits. But if they cannot be found we may as well throw our hands in the air and sit and wait for God to indeed rend the heavens and come down.

My second concern is whether the Government will be willing to give the rebuilding process the kind of budgetary support that will be necessary to get the job done over the long haul. It is not just human but financial atrophy that can bedevil such efforts. The scope of the work to be done is vast and should not be minimised by any suggestion that there is no money to do the work. Part of what such work will entail are robust counselling programmes that will aid in the psychosocial rehabilitation of people whose sense of personhood and human rights have been for too long denuded by dons and politicians alike; skills training to give the idle no excuse not to work; and clean communities where roads are rehabilitated and the curse of the zinc fence removed from the face of people.

What will be required is a mini-Marshall Plan reminiscent of the post-war reconstruction of Europe and Japan. We will hear the lament that money is scarce, but we know how quickly politicians are wont to run deficits to carry out their pet projects. Jamaicans must not accept this excuse, especially when Parliament just gave the Government the go-ahead to raid the National Housing Trust coffers of over $40 billion for the next four years. If we are serious about the social rehabilitation of these communities then there must be serious financial commitment to the effort, otherwise we would just be tinkering at the edges and giving people false hope coupled with a false sense of security. The Jamaican people must never accept any such excuse from their elected leaders and must insist that they find the resources to get the job done.

Over to you, Prime Minister Holness. You must focus on this part of the project with laser-like intensity; for it will be a test of your resolve to stay the course.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or




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