Columns

'Improving' and bungling

Crime assessment, botching the basics, and civility

Canute Thompson

Sunday, March 10, 2019

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IN my column of March 3, 2019, in which I assessed the performance of the three-year-old Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party Administration, I compared the state of crime in 2018 to 2017 and 2016 and, taking account of the 21.9 per cent reduction in murders in 2018 over 2017, I asserted that the Government's performance in crime was “improving”.

While the review by most readers, including senior people in Government, was that the assessment was balanced, I have got serious pushback from several quarters — including from members of my immediate and extended family — on the use of the word “improving”. Some even wondered if I was trying to appease the Government.

While not disputing that in 2018 there were fewer reported murders than in 2017, the argument these readers made, which I find compelling (and which I made in a previous article) is that the real assessment of the Government's performance on crime must be based on what was the state of play when the Government took office.

In 2015, there were 1,192 reported murders, compared to 1,350 in 2016; an increase of 13.2 per cent. In 2017 there were 1,616 reported murders — a 19.7 per cent increase over 2016. My critics argued that the word improvement could only be used if 2016, 2017, or 2018 were lower than 2015. In 2018, a total of 1,287 murders were reported, 95 more than what was reported in 2015. One reader, who took account of the promises the Government made which I analysed in the piece on March 3, gently excoriated me for omitting to mention the repeated promise of the prime minister that, under his leadership, Jamaicans would be able to sleep with their windows and doors open at night. That promise, the reader reasoned, could only mean that the conditions in 2015 were deemed to be so appalling that there would be a reduction in the carnage as it existed then. This was not the case.

Thus, I accept the analysis made by various readers that the crime situation in Jamaica is not improving, though there was a reduction in the carnage in 2018, but a change in the numbers for a single year cannot be used to argue that there has been improvement.

Further evidence of the argument that the crime situation in Jamaica is not improving is shown by the statistics for the month of February 2016 to 2019. The data shows the number of reported murders as 82 (2015); 86 (2016); 88 (2017); 105 (2018); and 103 (2019). One could hardly call a reduction of two per cent or less an improvement.

TROUBLE IN THE WEST

Not only is it truly the case that the crime situation is not improving, but the Government continues to bungle in its management of the issue and, given what is now taking place in Westmoreland, it is clear the Government has dropped the ball. There were 10 murders in the parish in the space of three days in late February and, contrary to the narrative that the ending of the state of emergency in neighbouring St James is a contributor, the data tell quite a different story.

In my column of Monday, December 31, 2018, I suggested that there ought to have been a state of emergency in Westmoreland. I stated then:

“One would expect that if murders and other crimes are on the rise in any area then measures would be taken to stem these. But let us look at the parish of Westmoreland. According to police data, 115 murders were reported in 2016, and 147 in 2017, an increase of 27 per cent, almost the same percentage increase as bloody St James. Despite this, there is no state of emergency in Westmoreland.”

That column, 'Placing the Performance of the Government in Context – Part 1', sought to show that, despite the hype, the Government had been underperforming. In highlighting the Government's poor judgement, I also made the point that while Westmoreland, which saw an increase in murders in 2017 almost on par with St James, but did not have a state of emergency declared: “By comparison, in St Catherine North there were 146 murders reported in 2016, and 134 in 2017, a reduction of eight per cent, yet there is a state of emergency there. It is to be recalled that when the first zone of special operations was declared, the prime minister, using flawed and inaccurate statistics, asserted that Mt Salem selected itself.”

The police chief for Westmoreland is reported in The Gleaner of March 6, 2019 as saying: “Every single young man in this community has access to a firearm.” The police pointed to the parish's location as a seaport with several entry points. But this is not new information. The murder of 10 people in three days, a few days ago, is not a rare occurrence in Westmoreland. There have been at least two similar incidents in 2018 involving fewer than 10, but multiple murders nonetheless. So where is “Plan: Secure Jamaica” of which the Government boasts?

This bungling is unacceptable and costly.

BUNGLING OF BASICS

When public relations take precedence over substance we have situations like what has occurred with the announcement of the date for the by-election in Portland Eastern. Information indicates that March 8 was a special Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) date. It is the birthday of Lady Bustamante as well as the date of Shahine Robinson's victory, so Ann-Marie Vaz's hoped-for win was to be added to the list of March 8 specials. My JLP sources also tell me that the prime minister was out of the country in the days prior to the March 1 rally and (the choreography and fluff-around) the date was decided in advance and told to him. Whatever the facts, it is downright unacceptable for a prime minister to blunder on such basics.

But this is a second time, in a matter of a few weeks, that the prime minister has blundered so majorly on the basics. Recall that he told Parliament the payout to the former human resource manager at Petrojam was $9.2 million, when in fact it was $13.75 million. I said then, and I repeat now, if the Government has blundered and bungled in these small things, can we imagine what is taking place in bigger matters? Citizens ought to be worried.

CIVILITY IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE

There has been much pushback in the media and sections of social media to the comments made by Damion Crawford about his rival for Portland Eastern. I think some of Crawford's comments were unfortunate, and I believe that in the interest of promoting a more civil and gracious discourse he should withdraw the offensive comments so we can focus on the issues of their proposed plans for Portland Eastern, their respective political philosophies, and their vision for Jamaica.

But I am of the view that many people who say they find Crawford's comments offensive are being less than sincere. Some of these same people either made or aired very unkind advertisements about Portia Simpson Miller in both the 2011 and 2016 election campaigns — and the fact that some members of her own PNP were unkind to her does not absolve those in the JLP who were also unkind to her.

The larger lesson, I submit, is that the comments of Crawford, as well as those about him (which have made fun of his locks and his egg business), highlight the need for us to attempt, once again, to raise the quality of our public discourse. Former Prime Minister P J Patterson taught us that it is possible to engage with our political adversaries without resorting to coarseness and meanness. We all need to make the effort, and I insist that Crawford is not the only person who must make amends in this regard.

I recall a rare moment in Parliament which brought tears to my eyes (and I don't halla easy) and that was when Daryl Vaz apologised to Dayton Campbell. I look forward to a repeat by both sides.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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