All I want for Christmas is to be alive
Given the high crime rate going into the holiday season, many are hoping for an easing of tensions.

Jamaicans are living in perilous times!

Over 1,00o people murdered so far while road accidents, which are also happening almost daily, have claimed over 400 lives. Many Jamaicans are living in fear, so much so that when they leave their homes for work, play, or any other law-abiding activity, they hope and pray that they will return safely to their abode in one piece.

The Andrew Holness Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration, even as it prepares for another political carnival at the National Arena this Sunday, for the most part, remains clueless as to what really should be done to tame the seemingly invincible crime monster. In yet another desperate bid to calm fears and persuade the general citizenry that all is not lost, it has once again introduced several states of public emergency (SOEs) in a number of crime-ridden parishes, as if that tried and, in many ways, failed intervention can heal a sin-sick nation.

It is my view that successive governments since Independence have failed to manage the country in a way that allows for law and order to prevail. However, this writer agrees with the prime minister when he recently opined that the country is not unmanageable. Just look at what happened when hundreds of unruly taxi drivers took to the streets this week demanding that the Government gives them an amnesty to pay off their many outstanding traffic tickets. The Government took the bold decision, perhaps for the first time at last, after a Cabinet meeting on Monday, not to yield to their demands, and what a refreshing moment for effective governance in this undisciplined nation that was! Kudos to the Holness Administration for showing some cojones! This is the way to go if we are to begin the process of taking back the country from hooligans and social deviants who have become a law unto themselves.

Recently I was in conversation with a prominent medical practitioner who bemoaned the fact that traffic crashes were absorbing too much of taxpayers' resources and keeping the health services extra busy in order to deal with the many injured people who are brought in and need expert care. To put it bluntly, driving on Jamaican roads these days has become a terrifying experience. Each day when I am about to hit the road I pray and make the sign of the cross as I contemplate the indiscipline, carelessness, and downright crassness that awaits me on the nation's roads. And, yes, one of the chief offenders are taxi and minibus operators who drive as if they have an urgent appointment with the undertaker.

Another set of "terrorists" on our roads are the bike operators and scammers. In the case of the former, their loud-sounding motorcycles that oftentimes backfire, giving off sounds similar to gunshots, are an assult on the eardrums. God help our senior citizens and people with heart conditions. They bob and weave through traffic, recklessly, becoming a nuisance to other motorists. No wonder there have been so many crashes resulting in the death of motorcyclists. Needless to say, most of these casualties occur because riders and pillions do not wear helmets and other protective gear.

Then there is a certain new set of "suicide drivers" who have taken over our thoroughfares in recent times. So as not to err on the side of caution, I shall refer to them as the "vexy" drivers, in reference to a certain brand of suburban vehicle that many of them operate as taxis, both legally and illegally. Sometime ago I was on my way to Kingston from Montego Bay, and just out of fun I decided to count the number of these vehicles. By the time I reached the Mandela Highway I had counted well over a hundred such vehicles. My experience with them has been most scary, for the most part, as they are always being driven at breakneck speed, overtaking, bullying other motorists who prefer to stay within the speed limits, and even abusing other drivers who are lawfully in their way. As a sidebar, observers have been saying that these vexed drivers have taken over from the famous (or is it infamous?) Lada vehicles that were used as taxis in times past, which were frequently involved in deadly collisions and were thus described as "Life and Death Association".

Every day we hear from the powers that be that the new Traffic Act will put a dent in the number of avoidable road crashes and acts of lawlessness on our roads, but will this really happen? To begin with, if the law is not enforced then these regulations are, for all intents and purposes, a waste of time. How can one taxi driver amass over 200 traffic tickets and still be allowed to operate in that capacity without being arrested and charged accordingly? Is the law an ass? And such a driver was among those who had the audacity to demand amnesty from the Government! Really? For too long the tail has been wagging the dog in this country when it comes to implementation of the law. And it is no secret that those who have sworn to uphold the law and give it teeth are themselves perpetrators of this slackness, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

So while we continue to fear for our lives on our roads, we also have to be mindful of the brazen, heartless, gunmen (and gunboys) who kill at will, having no mercy, not even for children and the elderly. It is no secret that crime has become big business in Jamaica. In fact, it may well be the biggest business in this country at this time, and as the Christmas season approaches there is every indication that we all have to be on our Ps and Qs as robberies, burglaries, drive-by shootings, and random attacks are likely to occur with greater frequency alongside traffick crashes.

My advice to all well-thinking, law-abiding citizens is to be careful out there. In real terms, this nation is at war with these criminals, and right now we are losing that war. In this context, I am in agreement with Senator Don Wehby who has bemoaned the fact that the Ministry of National Security has failed to expend billions of dollars in its allocation to, in the final analysis, keep this nation safe. Clearly, there needs to be a full enquiry into why this has been so.

Meanwhile, even as the traditional Christmas breeze begins to blow across the land and we get into the festive spirit, my greatest wish is that as many of us as possible will live to see Christmas Day and beyond. "It sipple out deh!"

Lloyd B Smith has been involved in media for the past 46 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

LLoyd B Smith
Lloyd B Smith

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