Stop funding gangs!
MPs accuse Jamaicans in Diaspora of supporting local criminal outfitsFriday, July 23, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
TWO leading Members of Parliament (MP) — hailing from both sides of the House of Representatives — have accused Jamaican criminals living in the Diaspora of flooding volatile communities here with weapons and ammunition.
Minister of National Security Dr Chang, who represents the St James North Western constituency, and Kingston Eastern and Port Royal MP Phillip Paulwell, of the Opposition, yesterday called on Jamaicans in the Diaspora, mainly in the United States, to use their money to help develop communities in Jamaica, instead of providing weaponry for the crime arsenal.
The issue was raised when Dr Chang, who is also Jamaica's deputy prime minister, addressed a meeting of the joint select committee of Parliament which is summing up its months-long review of the four-year-old Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, which defines the role of the zones of special operations (ZOSOs) in the fight against crime and violence.
Acknowledging that the committee offers parliamentarians an opportunity to have intense dialogue about mutual issues, irrespective of their political affiliation, Chang blamed the “overseas guys” remitting money and weapons to their local enforcers to maintain control of their former home towns.
“It is a big problem; at the same time, our [international] partners are pressuring us when they should be giving us help [to stop it]. They [overseas funders] are really a kind of source, once they are active, and they have the kind of money to keep recruiting, even despite our best efforts here,” he stated.
Paulwell, for his part, said that he has been studying the problem and he is also convinced that the violence in Jamaica was being funded by operatives abroad.
“I have tried to think about this thing, because I know when there is a so-called war in my communities [with] the amount of gunshots that people report that they are firing and the kind of weaponry,” Paulwell remarked.
He said that he had asked himself whether politicians could be supporting it by funding the gangsters through contracts to do work within the constituency. However, he said that the only kind of contracts to constituents, without intensive procurement activity, would be much too cheap to pay for the kind of weapons and the amount of ammunition in the possession of gangsters.
“For the last five years I have been very careful in terms of [handing out contracts] that we do in the constituency, and, of course, as you know, the Constituency Development Fund is quite minima, so there is nothing there they can do. Now, do we provide them with any back channel support? When I think about how much money they are spending it must be from a source, and I can only think of overseas sources,” he said.
“...You hear things, and I have been pleading to those persons who used to live in the communities who now live overseas: 'If you want to do something for your community where you used to live, then send some building machine so the people can become engaged in some productive activity and, for heaven's sake, stop sending guns and bullets to Jamaica.' I also think that out international partners should be able to assist us,” he added.
“We are definitely on the same wave length across the aisle,” Dr Chang reacted. “We do not have that kind of resources. The old narrative of contracts has long gone. Much of the money spent on projects don't use that routine. It's only the primary constituency effort that is available. So, this narrative that you are giving out handouts to [political activists] and gangs is ridiculous,” Dr Chang insisted.
He said that, beyond the primary contracts, the only ones available do require procurement procedures, including tendering because they are big projects.
“So the narrative about giving out to [activists] is just foolishness.”
“They [gangsters] are into big business. They are smuggling and scamming, along with the support they get from the overseas people. We have to find a way to stop the flow. It is unbelievable the amount of money spent, just on ammunition,” he said.
“It is a real challenge and we just have to keep working on it. It is a serious thing. In Montego Bay, you will have to be there to hear it [for yourself]. I have listened to it. There were times before the SOE (state of emergency) you would hear gunshots right across Montego Bay, and unless you hear it yourself it would be difficult to appreciate it,” Chang pointed out.
“The men in Granville start a barrage of shots and by the time Granville goes off it comes across to Mount Salem, and one side of Mount Salem goes off, then the next side goes off, too. Then there is Rose Heights, followed by part of Salt Spring and Glendevon, and Glendevon is followed by Flankers. Then it goes back the other way for another two or three rounds. It is unbelievable the amount of money spent just on ammunition. It's crazy,” the national security minister told the committee.
The joint select committee is currently reviewing a draft report prepared by the team of technical government officers and ministers, including Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, for the final report on the amendments which will be tabled as soon as Parliament returns from its summer break. The amendments are aimed at giving the security forces wider authority in dealing with suspects and crime in the ZOSO areas, including the right to search and arrest suspected individuals.
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