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If ZOSO is to succeed…

Canute Thompson, PhD

Sunday, September 10, 2017

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Last week I asserted that the zones of special operations (ZOSO) Act and strategy, as conceived and articulated in terms of the measures of success enunciated by the prime minister, is bound to fail. The prime minister had said that the success of the ZOSOs would be measured by no murders occurring in the zones. He has subsequently altered his position with respect to murders and has now spoken of a “reduction” in murders.

There is no doubt that the high murder rate with which Jamaica is faced must be brought under control. There also can be no doubt that one of the measures of the performance of any Government must be its ability to maintain law and order and reduce crime.

However, it is a flawed approach to the analysis of the performance of the ZOSO push to limit it to “no murders” or “a reduction in murders”. To do so exposes the initiative to a grave risk of failure.

I recall that after the passage of the ZOSO Bill some commentators were claiming victory by pointing to the fact that there was a drop in murders. But within a few days after a brief lull, the spate of double and triple killings, especially in Clarendon, was back. Thus the fantasy that some people embraced that the mere passage of the Bill would send criminals scampering was shown for what it was — a mere fantasy.

A similar fantasy is emerging with some celebrating the fact that killings have been less in St James since the ZOSO was established. But that is to be expected, and the murders have continued unabated in Clarendon.

Policing in Jamaica has seen several anti-crime measures going back to the infamous Suppression of Crime Act of the 1970s, to the famous Adams-led squad and others. None of these have resulted in any sustained reduction in murders. I see nothing in the ZOSO, as currently designed, that would lead me to believe that the results will be different from those under previous initiatives.

Formula for success

I make no claim to be a crime-cure czar, neither do I purport to be advancing rocket science or sharing silver bullets, but if the ZOSO is to succeed, more broadly if Jamaica is to have a chance at breaking the back of crime, there are a few basic things we must do well. I share five basic considerations:

(1) Bipartisan approach

It is by now trite logic to say that crime does not have an orange or green tinge (even though we sometimes behave as though it does). The high crime rate is not the doing of the current prime minister or minister of national security (even if both or either would want to take credit for any reduction that may occur). The high crime rate is Jamaica's problem, and unless a bipartisan, non-politicised approach is taken, we run the risk of infusing political one-upmanship in initiatives that could end up undermining the efforts towards real reduction.

No one should seek to become great from being successful in fighting crime. Applause may come later, but the focus must be on outcomes. There is a prayer I learnt in my early theological journey that says, “From the sinful desire of seeking to be great, deliver me, good Lord.”

If there is a governing principle of indifference to being seen as great, then the capacity for collaboration increases. It is here that the engagement in a bipartisan approach becomes possible. Against this background I would urge the Government to engage the Opposition on its five-point crime plan. This Government has shown, perhaps more than any previous Government, that it has the capacity to take the ideas of its opponents and use them. This is a good thing.

If the People's National Party's five-point crime plan can work it deserves to be part of the contemplation. The plan includes a proposal to establish a bipartisan task force, re-implement the “Unite for Change” programme, and strengthen the justice system by expanding courts and employing more judges.

The fight over whether there should be one or more hotline points of contact for making complaints is unfortunate and unnecessary. The assertion that one party is more committed and better able to fight crime is precisely the kind of thing that should not be heard now.

(2) Set actionable 60-day targets

The key question to be considered by the country in general, and by those leading the ZOSO in Mt Salem in particular, is: What should we know at the end of 60 days? Yes, we should know where the guns are, and get them. We should also know the whereabouts of the individuals who are the leaders of criminal gangs. But in terms of long-term purpose of the ZOSO, we need to have the starting game plan of critical counter-measures that sustainably recover territories from criminal control.

These starting measures include some foundational data points on the profile of the community. The Social Development Commission has been doing profiles of communities in St James for ages, and various agencies have been in the parish long before there was even talk of a ZOSO, so there is some actionable information available. Taking account of what is already known, some additional data that would need to be gathered include:

a) The number of out-of-school youth that are resident in the community; their names, their homes and the skills they possess, if any.

b) The number of community assets that are in need of repairs (hurricane shelters, community centres, schools, clinics, roads, etc, and the cost of carrying out those repairs.

c) The quality of the programmes being offered at schools and what is needed to improve them.

d) The ideal location to be cleared (either a green or brown field) for the purpose of setting up a paramilitary training and construction operation base.

(3) Commit big money, ensure accountability & transparency

Information on conditions and community characteristics that must be the subject of transformation activities should therefore be at the forefront of the discussions about the ZOSO, not only getting illegal guns and capturing criminals. Getting illegal guns and capturing criminals is everyday police work.

I have repeatedly stated in this space that the only real sustainable way to fight crime is to tackle root causes. If the ZOSO is to be different from previous criminal counter-measures it must be known for its higher purpose and strategic focus. In this regard, Government must commit to investing big money (in Mt Salem and elsewhere) to effect the social transformations needed.

Assured that money will be available to support a massive and sustained intervention, the Social Intervention Committee must then put together a master plan that will receive the fiscal space clearance and support starting in the 2018/19 fiscal year. Spending under that budget needs to be monitored by the relevant agencies, including the Office of the Contractor General, and value for money outputs and outcomes must be paramount.

(4) Mandate / Legislate military and skills training

The proposed military base [mentioned at 2 (d)] to be constructed on either a green field or by clearing derelict buildings in or near Mt Salem, should provide training in personal discipline and marketable construction skills. Youth would be employed as block-makers, millwrights, masons, carpenters, operations managers, security personnel, draftsmen, etc. This base should be constructed under the guidance of the army, and every youth age 17 - 29 who is not employed (in a legal activity) and is not in a vocational or tertiary programme should be mandated to be part of the crew constructing this base. Even if three or more of them have to work in a five-foot square area (as many now do clearing grass on the road), that is okay. The aim is meaningful activity and preparation for sustained engagement. These same youth would, after a combination of discipline and skills training, be engaged in repairing community assets mentioned at 2(b).

All youngsters attached to the ZOSO project should be issued a ZOSO ID. The security personnel would still patrol the streets at night but would soon have built relationships with these young men and women that would make the job of monitoring that easier. Thus, there would be a buzz of economic activity in the community.

Gettinthe facts right

It is inexcusable, and embarrassing, that the Government could have got the numbers wrong in relation to defining the first ZOSO. The prime minister had insisted that the community “selected itself”. The Government has now acknowledged that it got the numbers wrong on Mt Salem, yet insists that naming that community was justified. Mt Salem may well be an appropriate location for a ZOSO, but what of the adjoining communities whose stats were reflected in the incorrect numbers? Should the decision not be based on accurate data? Some people have suggested that the boundaries of the zone be redrawn. That is a logical and sensible suggestion. Could the decision not to reverse the decision be based on errors or misreading of the data?

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 three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or c anutethompson1@gmail.com.

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