Tough talk, Minister Charles, let's see you do the walk
Minister of Agricuture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr (left) responds to questions from reporters during this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's head office on Beechwood Avenue in the Corporate Area, while chief technical director in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Orville Powell looks on. (Photo Naphtali Junior)

We note that Mr Pearnel Charles Jr, the minister of agriculture and fisheries, is talking tough on the issue of praedial larceny which, for many years and despite promises of action from successive administrations, remains a source of great pain and economic ruin among farmers.

According to Minister Charles, people found guilty of farm theft will face the full force of the law, regardless of their station in life.

"I am a former prosecutor… I'm not somebody who's just chatting," Minister Charles said at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, reminding also that he was a senior clerk of court for St Catherine.

"Big man, small man, little man have come before me; ask them what has been the result. The insinuation… is that if a big man is caught he can pick up the phone and call me and say, 'Hey, young Pearnel, it's me yuh nuh'. Let me tell you, that is not the reality… that is not going to happen," he said.

Talk, as we all know, is easy. But we will give Minister Charles the benefit of the doubt and observe his actions going forward.

We are well aware that a Praedial Larceny Prevention Coordination Unit was commissioned into service on March 2, 2015 to curtail the theft of agricultural produce across the island.

The unit, a collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of National Security, comprises an administrative arm housed inside of the agriculture ministry and an enforcement arm led by the police.

We are told that the unit — which also partners with the Jamaica Agricultural Society, Rural Agricultural Development Authority, the Ministry of Health, and Crime Stop — can mobilise the police and civil society through farmers groups, agencies and organisations to significantly reduce the theft and illegal distribution of farm produce.

Given that reports to the police of praedial larceny are limited by fear and some feeling that the authorities are nonchalant when they receive complaints, it is important that any gains made by this unit are publicised and can stand up to scrutiny, as that will engender public confidence which will redound to the unit's mandate.

Earlier this year, the minister reported that for the 2021 to 2022 period up to May, 102 arrests were made and more than 70 animals recovered and/or returned to their owners. He attributed that to a raft of measures put in place to stem the problem. Additionally, he and his team, he said, are doing more but have deliberately not made a lot of noise about their activities because they "do not want to end up with people telling us that it's just announcements".

That is a refreshing departure from the usual behaviour of politicians who, because their gaze is fixed on re-election, revel in making grand announcements but come up short on implementation.

But even as we acknowledge that the measures and strategies put in place are reaping some success, it is important that all law-abiding Jamaicans make it their business to help combat praedial larceny.

We accept that Jamaica will not rid itself of this crime, like all others, as there are some individuals who, regardless of the sanctions, will continue to break the law.

The key, though, is to ensure that enforcement will be so effective that those minded to reap what they have not sown will think twice before even making an attempt.

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