Eye on violence
Declaring that violence is eroding Jamaicans’ quality of life, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says his Government “is going to take a deliberate and focused approach” to the problem that will include the creation of a new ministry.
“I’m thinking of calling it the ministry of peace and human development, but maybe that won’t be the name; but we need a ministry that is focused on reducing the level of violence in our society,” Holness told cheering supporters attending the public session of the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) 80th annual conference at National Arena in St Andrew on Sunday.
“Jamaica is not a country at war, but our homicide rate, our deaths due to violence, equates countries that are at war,” the JLP leader said.
“What it means is that Jamaica is in conflict. We are in conflict with ourselves, we are in conflict with our neighbour, our family, our intimate partner, our employer, workers, teachers, students, and we’re in conflict — citizen and State. We cannot continue to be a society in conflict with ourselves,” he said.
“If it is one thing, therefore, that this Administration must do, starting in this term and for the next term, is to put measures in place to deal with the unabated violence that is like a disease, like an epidemic in our society.
“So we have commissioned a study on it, which we should get by the end of this year, and when that study comes in we’re going to reorganise the Government to create and bring all the agencies that deal with families, communities, social development, parenting, we’re going to bring all of them together under one ministry,” Holness said.
Violence, he said, “is at in intolerable level and it is changing the character and nature of the Jamaican people. It is reducing the quality of our lives and it is making us aggressive with each other”.
Pointing out that violence comes at a great economic cost, the prime minister said that a reduction in violence would lead to a lower health-care bill, a reduction in the country’s policing and security needs, while increasing citizens’ creativity and social well-being.
In an address that he acknowledged was crafted not only for his audience at the area but for Jamaicans who may be frustrated with politics, Holness said it was important to engage those individuals as they “are an important part of our democracy”.
His Administration’s message to supporters and the wider Jamaica, he explained, was, in addition to continuing the country’s economic progress, they are now going to embark on two other streams of development — productivity and peace.
“I want to build a partnership with you, it’s the partnership for productivity, the partnership for peace, and the partnership for prosperity,” Holness said.
He also used his address to assure diplomats in the audience of Jamaica’s commitment to its treaty obligations and relationship with the international community.
“As a small country with an open economy and an open society, Jamaica supports the cooperative system of nations, and we will do our part to make the world a better place. Whether it’s support for disaster recovery for our neighbours, as we did with Dominica and The Bahamas, or in supporting peace-building in Haiti, Jamaica is doing its part,” he said.
Addressing the current conflict in the Middle East for which the Government received flak over its absence from a United Nations vote on the matter, Holness said, “Jamaica is consistent in its support for the universal respect and adherence to the principles of international law and respect for territorial integrity and the sovereignty of all nations. We condemn all forms of terrorism and we support the right of nations to defend themselves and pursue their security while preserving the rights of innocent civilians to live in peace and dignity.
“We are deeply concerned at the rising human cost in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and we welcome the current pause in hostilities. We urge all parties to seek a permanent solution and we remain convinced that this can only be achieved by a negotiated two-State solution, enabling the Palestinians and Israelis to live securely in peace and dignity.”
He also said that Jamaica continues to be a reasonable and rational voice in international fora and continues to lead global initiatives and treaties — whether in trade, finance, or climate change.
“Whatever treaty obligations we negotiate or sign on to, it must be consistent with our laws and constitution, and we must engage with local stakeholders within our democratic framework,” the prime minister emphasised.
“This had been our approach, even as it is that we are determined and committed to ensure that our local financial system is robustly compliant with the international financial system, Financial Action Task Force recommendations for anti-money laundering and other illicit activities. We want our financial system to meet the highest international standard as we believe this will make Jamaica a stronger and safer destination for investment,” he said.
Turning to the Samoa treaty, which has caused some amount of unease locally, Holness said that the trade and economic opportunities it presents will be beneficial for Jamaica. At the same time, he said that as the Government pursues these opportunities it must engage, explain, and reassure “stakeholders of the various provisions in place to respect our values and laws as a sovereign country”.
He pointed out that issues like these are not normally raised at the party conference; however, “it is important that our political platform is broadened to treat with some of these crucial issues”.