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The PNP's game of convenient ignorance and petty politics

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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We share the same sun, but not our homes. — A Kalenjin proverb (Kenya)

“Do you need a ZOSO [zone of special operations] to have rodent control in a community? Do you need a ZOSO to be able to remove zinc fences? Do you need a ZOSO to have a health fair? Do you need a ZOSO to deliver back-to-school activities?”

Horace Dalley, Member of Parliament (MP) for Clarendon Northern and Opposition spokesman on labour, was evidently knee-deep in the mess of political grandstanding when he asked these questions in Parliament last Tuesday.

Surely, MP Dalley must be aware that there are communities in this country that are, by and large, enclaves of criminal gangs.

Dalley, if he is not totally absorbed in his political cocoon, knows that there are communities where one can barely lift a finger, as we say in local parlance, unless the don or his lieutenants are part and parcel of the decision.

Having been involved in local representational politics for more than 20 years, I believe Dalley knows that we have some communities in which young girls and women are at threat of rape by criminals who are protected by blankets of silence.

Apart from Dalley's seeming convenient state of ignorance, something else has become evident to discerning folks.

Survival with a capital 'S'

Recall this utterance from the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Dr Peter Phillips in Parliament earlier this month: “The state of emergency is used when the survival of the society is in question.”

Jamaica has had over a 1,000 murders every year since 2004. Here is the tragic evidence from Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) 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: 1,616

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.

Dr Peter Phillips was the minister of national security in 2005. On Phillips's watch murders peaked at 1,674 in 2005.

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

Yes, murders happen everywhere in the world. That is hardly the point. The crux of the matter is, too many of us have become numb by the horrific murders that take place in our society almost daily.

For many years previous administrations have all but bought into a foolish philosophy that if they could just keep murders just about 1,000 per year that would be a great accomplishment. This 'Russian roulette' type of thinking has helped to put us to where we are today.

Before Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a state of public emergency in St James on January 18, 2018, that parish was one of the most murderous places worldwide. The Economist magazine commented, among other things:

“Its murder rate is three times Jamaica's and 50 times that of New York City. Last year 335 people died violently in a district with a population of 185,000.” ( The Economist, January 25, 2018)

This suggests to me that our survival was in question. I am talking about the preservation of life and property of Jamaican citizens. Jamaica has to be safe for Jamaicans before it can be safe for anyone else.

Here is more evidence that our survival was in question: A 2017 World Bank report noted that the direct cost of crime to Jamaica in 2014 was $61 billion, or four per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

The Economist of March 20, 2008 stated that: “If Caribbean countries were able to reduce crime levels to those similar to Costa Rica (with a homicide rate of 8.1/100,000), their rates of economic growth would increase notably. In the cases of Jamaica and Haiti, gross domestic product growth would be boosted by a massive 5.4 per cent annually; growth in the Dominican Republic would be 1.8 percentage points higher; and Guyana's economy would grow by an additional 1.7 points per year.”

A recent Inter-American Development Bank report told us that the indirect cost of crime to the country on an annual basis is about seven per cent of GDP. This figure includes investments that might have come to Jamaica but didn't because of concerns about our high crime levels.

Dr Phillips's utterance that “the state of emergency is used when the survival of the society is in question” is frightening, given the tremendous social, human and economic losses this country has suffered, and continues to suffer, because of our long-standing and abnormal crime rate. I contend that the survival of our society is in question as long as we continue to be one of the most murderous countries in the world.

More petty politics

There is an obvious connection between the seeming ignorance of Horace Dalley and his People's National Party (PNP) colleagues. Recall that in July of this year, Dr Phillips, Dr Fenton Ferguson, and other members of the Opposition bellyached in Parliament about the cost of operations of the JCF at $31 million per month.

A newspaper report said, among other things: “Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips expressed concern about the costs associated with the state of emergency. He argued that, based on figures presented by the prime minister, the cost of the operations by the Jamaica Constabulary Force alone was $31 million per month; so in the seven months we're looking in the order of a quarter-billion dollars for St James.” ( The Gleaner, July 18, 2018)

I believe the life of every Jamaican is priceless. It seems, however, that the People's National Party has placed a finite monetary value on our lives.

Two Sundays ago, in reply to a missive from the director of communications for the PNP, Colin Campbell, I pointed out that the party has continued to vote for the extension of the state of public emergency (SOE) and ZOSO initiatives because of the overwhelming weight of public sentiments on the side of this sitting Administration. In the attempts to reverse public sentiment, the PNP would best understand that convenient ignorance of the realities of crime in our country will not advance their objectives.

Folks are happy with the near-22 per cent reduction in murders. The fact that 271 fewer Jamaicans have been murdered, compared to the similar period last year, is objective reality, not convenient ignorance.

Recently, Omar Robinson, the president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, (JHTA), told the country that Montego Bay was now the safest place in Jamaica. St James recorded 375 murders in 2017. There has been a 70 per cent decline. The parish has also seen a decline in robberies, shootings and other major crimes.

There is a 27 per cent reduction in murders in the St Catherine North Police Division. The majority of the citizens who live in communities covered by an SOE or ZOSO continue to maintain that the measures could not have come sooner. The PNP seems to be listening only to the minority — if at all these dissenters exist.

Rodney and Thompson feedback

My piece in The Agenda last week seem to have provoked quite a bit of discussion among my readers, especially with regard to reference to Walter Rodney and Dudley Thompson. There are some who greatly admired Rodney and there are those who seemingly hated his guts. I share portions of two e-mail responses on Rodney. At another time I may share two on Thompson.

Response 1: “He was a serious threat to national security. Certain activities of his and other activists on the campus of The University of the West Indies (UWI) were inimical to Jamaica's socio-, political and economic interest. [Hugh] Shearer did not arbitrarily slap that ban on Rodney. He did so after receiving critical and compelling intelligence-driven evidence from the police and army (Special Branch and MIU - the army's Military Intelligence Unit).

“The socio, political, and economic destruction that resulted from the numerous riots perpetrated by left wing elements after Rodney was banned was astronomical. Talk to others who were around then. Chat with [… …I omitted the name for legal and privacy reasons]. He could shed a lot of light on what really happened. Ask him to tell you about the destruction of Westbest, by the Spanish Town Road and Waltham Park Road area, where Chinese businesses and other businesses on Spanish Town Road were destroyed by arsonists; damage that ran into millions of pounds.”

Response 2: “Rodney was only defending the downtrodden. The Shearer Government did not pay attention to a lot of social development issues that were important to a society that had just come out of colonial rule. Suppression and repression were the order of the day for those who hit out against the new colonial rulers. The poor did not have a voice. Rodney went into the communities and reasoned with the people about the kind of society which they wanted. Rodney was not about schisms. He was about people power. The authorities did not like that one so bright was educating the masses to know themselves and their real value.”

Climate change and energy matters

I doubt there are many in this country who believe climate change is a hoax. But for those who are still asking how can climate change affect my health, these pointers from a CNN broadcast on October 12, 2018 should be helpful:

• more mosquitoes and ticks

• contaminated water

• increase in mental health issues

• increase in type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems and stroke

• more car crashes

• scientists say we have 12 years to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

I was happy to see this announcement by Andrew Holness last week: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he has directed that Jamaica pursues a target of achieving 50 per cent of its energy generation from renewables by 2030.

“Under current policy, the country has a target of 30 per cent.” ( The Gleaner, October 16, 2018)

Costa Rica is a good model for us to examine.

The recent floods in Montego Bay, Clarendon, and other sections of the country, plus the fact that August 3, 2017, was the hottest day in 24 years, according to the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, should serve as a final wake-up call for us to take much better care of the environment which keeps us alive.

These comments by Holness (also The Gleaner, October 16, 2018) should be a constant reminder that we stand to lose the most if we do not act now:

“The people who will be on the front line from any catastrophe of our environment will be small island developing states like Jamaica. The ignorance of the threat is not on those who, for political or academic reasons, decide to be blind to it. It is for those who will be impacted by it, but are too poor to have the information and understand it.”

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having except as a result of hard work. — Booker T Washington

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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