Prime Minister Andrew Holness has declared that “partisan and political” considerations did not influence his decision to retain Dr Horace Chang as minister of national security in his recent shuffle of his Cabinet.
Holness has faced criticisms for his decision to retain Chang in the key security ministry after the island recorded a 10 per cent increase in murders last year when compared to 2020, and an even bloodier start to this year with an average of more than four murders each day.
Among those questioning the decision to retain Chang in the portfolio is presiding bishop of the Christian Holiness Church in Jamaica, Dr Alvin Bailey who, in a letter to the Observer, called on the minister, “to show moral rectitude and resign immediately”.
“If he refuses to resign, the prime minister should relieve him of his duties in the interest of the safety and security of the Jamaican people,” declared Bailey.
He added: “Under Dr Chang's watch, crime and violence islandwide has reached alarming proportions and shows no sign of abatement. The violent, frightening and brutal nature of the killings reflect wanton disregard for law, order and the efforts of his Administration, so he must take responsibility for the ineffectiveness and incompetence of his leadership.”
But responding to a question at a media briefing at Jamaica House on Sunday, Holness said he retains faith in Chang who is the deputy prime minister and the general secretary of the governing Jamaica Labour Party.
“I asked Dr Chang to take over the portfolio of national security before the last [general] election [September 2020],” the prime minister told the media briefing at Jamaica House where he announced that a section of Westmoreland had been declared a zone of special operations (ZOSO).
According to Holness, national security is a most difficult portfolio and it requires a long-term commitment to the plans that his Government has put in place.
“And we are not going to change the current situation through the flick of a switch. The problems are deep-rooted and they require significant structural, institutional cultural and resource reform,” declared Holness.
He argued that dealing with the crime problem will take time as this requires legislative, policy and structural changes.
“What you are seeing before you now is a police force that is far more intelligence-based than at any time. What you are seeing now is a direction of resources into our security apparatus that gives us domain control, on land and sea, to the point where [if] you believe you are going to enter Jamaica illegally and stay here, you have another thing coming,” added Holness.
In an obvious reference to the arrest of two men wanted in connection with the killing of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and who had fled to Jamaica, as well as the seizure of nine illegal guns in the Corporate Area last week, Holness argued that the security forces are now demonstrating even greater ability to fight crime.
“And you will see it, the increased capabilities [of the security forces] to find weapons. And all of this was done without taking any lives,” said Holness.
He declared that this heralds the beginning of the transformation of the security forces that will allow them to be favourably compared to similar forces of the highest standards, worldwide.
“It therefore means that I cannot, at this point, unduly interrupt the plans laid and the institutional knowledge that has been gained while Minister Chang has been at the helm at the Ministry of National Security,” said Holness.
“I have full confidence in Minister Chang, in his knowledge and his competence and his heart, which is to ensure that every Jamaican is safe,” added Holness.
The national security ministry is the policy arm of the Government to facilitate the maintenance of law and order, as well as to protect Jamaica against internal and external threats and ensure the safety of Jamaica's borders.