Crime quarrel
Gov't under fire from PSOJ, Opposition
Opposition Leader Mark Golding addresses a post-conference press briefing at the headquarters of the People's Naional Party (PNP) in St Andrew, Tuesday. Golding says the PNP is not against a crime consensus and chided the Government for making it difficult for the nation to achieve one. Beside Golding is Senator Gabriela Morris, president fo the PNP Youth Organisation. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

THE Government on Tuesday came under heavy flak over spiralling crime in the country from the Opposition, as well as the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) which told the Administration that it needs to act now to protect Jamaicans as the current situation is "becoming untenable".

Stating that it has been patient and constructive in supporting the country's leaders, the PSOJ said the Government and the security forces "must be proactive and lead the way in serving and protecting Jamaicans as many of our citizens from all walks of life are living in a state of fear and anxiety as they face unrelenting, atrocious criminal acts".

The PSOJ statement came two days after gunmen opened fire at a football match in Spring Village, St Catherine, leaving three people dead and six others nursing gunshot wounds. It was the 16th multiple murder this month.

The private sector lobby group said that the police commissioner has indicated that 71 per cent of the more than 1,000 murders recorded so far are committed by gangs. However, the gangsters "continue to walk our streets with confidence, knowing that the long arm of the law has not been able to have them face the consequences of their rampant, cold-blooded criminality".

Added the PSOJ: "We see the collateral damage of that 71 per cent of murders with mothers, children, young men, hardworking citizens, members of a community enjoying themselves at a football match, being slaughtered. Jamaicans are losing hope and it certainly appears that under our current legal construct and/or with the resources that are available to be deployed that we don't have the capacity to mount a sustained onslaught on these gangs that will reverse the trajectory of murders and mayhem."

The PSOJ said that while it is aware that investments in technology, capacity, and infrastructure continue to be made in the police force and the Jamaica Defence Force, and legislation to combat crime are in the pipeline, "we must deal with the immediate crisis" with sound and effective short-term strategies "within our legal construct to mount a credible and sustained effort to neutralise these gangs".

The PSOJ also said it was calling on the country's political leaders "to get behind closed doors to gain consensus on the short-term crime strategies which were to be captured in the Enhanced Security Measures Act"

"We have not seen any Vale Royal talks, nor has the public been advised of any behind closed doors conversations to take us towards consensus," the group added.

That comment, however, was not taken lightly by Opposition Leader Mark Golding as he countered that the People's National Party (PNP) is not against a crime consensus and chided the Government for making it difficult for the nation to achieve one.

"The PSOJ is on a bit of a crusade around this consensus issue but I am not sure what they are actually focusing on. There is not a lack of consensus around policy. We supported the Firearms Bill that came to Parliament despite the fact that it has some fairly draconian aspects to it which I highlighted and I asked for some amendments to ensure there is a safety valve built into it that is effective," Golding said at a news conference at PNP headquarters.

"We have supported the Crime Monitoring and Oversight Committee (CMOC) and we are active on CMOC. It is Government's presence that has been absent from CMOC. In fact, it appeared that they had given up on CMOC at one point which is an entity that was established by an agreement, by consensus between political parties, the private sector and other civil society groups to achieve consensus around crime. I have been calling for Vale Royal talks for a couple of years since I became leader of the Opposition," Golding said.

He said there was only one Vale Royal meeting in February and the Government did not follow up on agreements arrived at during that meeting.

"The responsibility for things like follow-ups really lies with the Government because they have the administrative machinery to ensure a follow-up. They have the civil servants and so on who can provide the minutes of the meeting and all that kind of thing. We haven't had any kind of follow-up and nothing has come out of that discussion. As far as I am concerned, there is not a situation where there is a lack of consensus," Golding insisted.

"The only issue which we have not seen eye to eye on was the use of states of public emergency as a policing tool like a curfew type arrangement where you could drop a state of emergency on a parish or an area and try and run it for seven years in an effort to reduce crime. All that produced was a balloon effect where pressure was put in one place and you displace criminal elements in one place and then you saw a spike in violent crime in other parts of the country that have been peaceful," he said.

"There may be particular points of legislation where we think something needs to be tweaked or whatever but there is no lack of consensus on crime, so I am not sure why the PSOJ is so fixated on this issue and it is almost like they are trying to say that it is up to the Opposition to achieve consensus. We have always been in favour of Vale Royal talks. at CMOC. It is the Government that has treated CMOC as something which they don't really believe in."

BY JASON CROSS Observer staff reporter crossj@jamaicaobserver.com

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