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Use what works!

SOEs not ideal, but they suppress crime

GARFIELD HIGGINS
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

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An old path leads to an old village. — Mandinka proverb, Gambia.

Berkshire Hathaway's vice-chair, Charlie Munger, in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance, said that the one mantra he followed in life came from Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, who transformed what one Westerner described in the 1960s as a “poor malarial island” into a First World country in just under 30 years.

According to Munger: “Lee Kuan Yew — who is the greatest nation-builder, probably, that ever lived in the history of the world — he said one thing over and over and over again all his life,” and that was to “figure out what works and do it”.

“If you want one mantra, it comes from Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.

“Because, with that attitude,” said Munger, “You just go at life with that simple philosophy from your own national group. You will find it works wonderfully well. Figure out what works and do it.”

I agree with this approach wholeheartedly. This approach makes eminent sense.

Bunting's remonstrance

Peter Bunting, Member of Parliament for Manchester Central and contender for the presidency of the People's National Party (PNP), perhaps in a moment of humility, would do well to consider this perspective, especially in relation to his continued opposition to the use of states of emergency (SOEs).

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a state of public emergency for the St Andrew South police division. He provided statistics from the security forces to, among other things, support the need for the declaration.

The rate at which we commit murder in this country, in relation to our population, is severely abnormal. This has been our reality for many years. So, do we fold our arms and do nothing and/or try nebulous approaches? Or do we continue to do what is working?

To date, the SOEs have proven effective in saving lives. Recall, for example, that when the PNP pulled the plug on the life-saving SOEs, near the end of 2018, figures from the Jamaica Constabulary Force showed that murders were down by 22.2 per cent. There were 359 fewer murders in 2018 compared to 2017. St James, where there was an SOE for a year, saw a 69 per cent reduction in murders, and 203 fewer people murdered in the parish compared to 2017. Among other things, the SOEs were achieving the important objective of helping to massively disrupt the long-standing criminal ecosystems.

Nonetheless, Dr Phillips and the PNP voted against the continuation. Phillips says his reason was the protection of human rights. Did he forget that the greatest human right is the right to life?

Dr Phillips has evidently learned from the national backlash which he and the PNP suffered following his fateful December 2018 blunder.

Recall also that an RJR Group/Don Anderson Poll in March of last year found that nine out of every 10 Jamaicans supported the SOEs.

Curiously, since Dr Phillips was affirmed president of the PNP, just over two years ago, there has been a noticeable spate of decisions which I can only categorise as Kamikaze politics. Last week he was quick to give the support of the Opposition to the enhanced security measures. Maybe, this sensible about-turn is an indication of a shift in the balance of forces which direct the PNP's decision curve.

Peter Bunting, by his words and deeds, has, however, put daylight between himself and the party which he is seeking to lead. This is not a new position. Recall that on December 19, 2018 he was reported in The Gleaner as commenting that the “SOE extension was not justified.” Recall, also that some weeks ago, he was the only Member of Parliament who voted against the reinstatement of the SOEs in St James and its extension into Westmoreland and Hanover.

Bunting said then, “Time will tell” if he'll pay a political price for his vote against extending the current state of public emergency in three western parishes. ( Nationwide News Network, May 10, 2019)

I think this is one of the few things he has got right thus far.

Bunting has opposed the SOEs and the zones of special operations (ZOSOs) from the get-go.

Remember this? 'No state of emergency but fix St James, Bunting urges Gov't'. ( Jamaica Observer, September 27, 2016) The story revealed the following: “While admitting that the upsurge in crime in St James is now an 'emergency situation', the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is not calling for a state of emergency.

“Instead, Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting is calling on the Government to act with a 'sense of urgency' to craft a solution to the wave of murders and shootings that has engulfed the parish over the past few weeks.

“Bunting, speaking today at a PNP press conference at the party's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquarters, said that for the last week Jamaica has been rocked by 36 murders and that he is alarmed that almost half of them occurred in St James.

“ 'While St James has featured at the top of the chart for the past few years, it is alarming that 21 per cent of all murders year to date occurred in St James,' he lamented.

“He, however, added that, while this is an emergency situation, 'the Opposition is not calling for a state of emergency, or any other knee-jerk measure designed to severely restrict the human rights of our citizens.'

“Bunting said the Opposition is instead demanding a sense of urgency from the Government in pulling together all stakeholders to craft a solution.”

Bunting's fusillade did not stop there. Here is another example:

“There is more indication that the Government's intention to request an extension of the state of public emergency in St James will be challenged by the Opposition in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“Peter Bunting, Member of Parliament for Manchester Central, has laid down a condition for the Government, which he says will determine whether the Opposition supports the extension.

“According to Bunting, the Government must first answer questions which have been raised by Opposition members.

“ 'Before him reach public business to discuss extension of state of emergency, answer the questions on Cornwall Regional Hospital that dem cut off last week. You can't talk 'bout you want cooperation but you not giving any respect, you not building any trust, you not coming with transparency and truth to answer to the people of Jamaica,' he contended.

“Bunting said the Opposition also wants answers on the police used cars scandal and exorbitant fees being paid to government consultants and advisors.

“He warned of road protests if the Government fails to respond to the questions on Tuesday.

“He was addressing a divisional conference at Bellefield High School in Manchester on Sunday.” ( RJR News, April 30, 2018).

Bunting subsequently described the ZOSO as “unnecessary”.

I was not surprised, therefore, when I heard him on the radio last Monday bad-mouthing the declaration of an SOE in the St Andrew South police division. Among other things, Bunting said, SOEs are an “ineffective use of the resources of the JDF and the JCF”. He said the SOEs were “public relations stunts”. And he remarked that, “We need something more meaningful from the Government to respond to the crime situation.”

Does Bunting understand the sanctity of life?

The vast majority of folks from the St Andrew South police division who were interviewed by the media last week expressed gratitude for the SOE. They know what it is like to live under the constant bark of guns. They know what it is like to have to constantly guard their teenage girls from criminals who take pleasure in defiling them. They know what it is like to bury relative after relative.

I don't believe Bunting and many who live above Cross Roads, and those who constantly berate the Administration's effort to preserve life, understand the realities that many of our ordinary citizens face on a daily basis. The SOEs are securing life and property, in particular, for thousands who do not live in gated communities, or who cannot afford to hire a private security company, or have a licensed firearm and/or a pack of pit bulls. Bunting would do well to listen to them and less to himself.

And why does Bunting not use the opportunity he has, especially now, to tell us about his new and or better plan to solve crime?

No one with a modicum of sense believes SOEs should be permanent. But they are achieving results, so why should the Administration abandon what works?

The huge cost of crime

This information might help Bunting and others in the PNP to understand the deadly impact of crime and violence on our economic growth and development.

The Gleaner story of October 13, 2017 said, among other things: “Crime does not pay, but it certainly is costing the Government of Jamaica a tidy sum; amounting to $68 billion per year — a dollar figure National Security Minister Robert Montague says could fund the construction of 16 new schools.

“Addressing the first Jamaica Geographic Information System (GIS) User Conference on Tuesday, Montague cited ministry data revealing the monetary impact that the high levels of crime have been having on Jamaica's fiscal space.

“ 'Crime is costing us a lot of money in this country. It is estimated by the World Bank that crime is costing Jamaica five per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] per year, which translates to about $68 billion per year,' said Montague.

“It costs the Government approximately $400,000 per day to keep a gunshot victim in intensive care. Jamaica sees, on average, approximately 2,000 gunshot victims per year, according to the minister.

“ 'So, if you do the math, it gives you an idea of the cost of crime in Jamaica and how it affects you, because as much as the prime minister and the minister of finance gave back to our public servants the $1.5-million tax-free, that money is being sucked by the persons who [are] in our hospitals,' stated Montague.

“ 'So even if you are not a victim of crime, you are also paying for the cost of crime in this country,' Montague added.

“Juxtaposing the value of crime against what he said was much-needed national infrastructure development, the security minister said that, in reality, the $68 billion could fund the construction of 16 high schools in addition to 30 new hospitals.

“ 'We could build some 30 hospitals, furnish them, and staff them. We could upgrade and put Barber-Greene on 100 of our Grade-A roads in Jamaica, and every one of us knows what that means,' he reasoned.

“ 'We could repair every clinic and every school and have money left over. We could repair and furnish every government office. That is the cost of crime, not only to the country, but to every single one of us,' Montague said.”

Some of us foolishly believe that 1,000 murders per year in a population of less than three million is a great achievement. This kind of thinking is part of the problem we have. I don't think some people get it that crime, in particular murders, is and has been a long-standing epidemic in Jamaica.

Jamaica has had over a 1,000 murders every year since 2004. Here is the tragic evidence from Jamaica Constabulary Force official statistics:

• 2004: 1,471

• 2005: 1,674

• 2006: 1,340

• 2007: 1,574

• 2008: 1,601

• 2009: 1,680

• 2010: 1,428

• 2011: 1,125

• 2012: 1,097

• 2013: 1,200

• 2014: 1,005

• 2015: 1192

• 2016: 1,350

• 2017: 1,641

• 2018: 1,287

Murders fell by 22 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017.

Even with the reduced murder count, 2018's murder rate of 47 per 100,000 inhabitants placed Jamaica among the most murderous countries in the world, putting us in the same category as nations such as Lesotho, Venezuela, and Honduras. This is severely abnormal.

In 1962 the murder rate in Jamaica was 3.9 per 100,000 — one of the lowest in the world. Forty-three years later, in 2005, our murder rate was 64 per 100,000 — one of the highest in the world.

Our long-standing addiction to crime, in particular murders, has robbed this country of many of our best and brightest.

Prime Minister Holness is right, “Violence is at epidemic levels in Jamaica. Action must be taken to treat it as such and to arrest the situation.”

It would not only be foolhardy not to use the results-bearing SOEs as some have said, it would be suicidal.


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