State will protect major infrastructure work from criminals, PM vows
Holness... "When criminal gangs seek to extort public works, this is a direct and a brazen attempt to use State resources to advance criminal enterprise"

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has issued a warning to criminals, that the security forces will be moving to protect major infrastructure work sites around the island from extortion rackets that have been plaguing those projects for some time now.

In his 2023/24 Budget Speech to the nation on Thursday, Holness advised that with several major infrastructural projects coming up in the new fiscal year the National Security Council has tasked the police and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency to set up special security operations around these sites to ensure that they are not hijacked by criminals seeking to illicitly benefit from public resources, and delay work schedules.

"When criminal gangs seek to extort public works, this is a direct and a brazen attempt to use State resources to advance criminal enterprise. We have seen elements of this along the South Coast Highway Improvement Project and the resulting impact on crime, particularly in the Bull Bay area," he told the House of Representatives.

Speaking to the country's wider crime problem and runaway murder rate, the prime minister said that the Government is working hard to bring a sustainable solution, and promised to "raddam the criminal gangs".

He said the prevalence of criminal gangs organising violence against citizens and the State to further their criminal enterprise should not be taken lightly, pointing out that testimony in the recently concluded gang trials have given insight into the cruel and calculating nature of gang operations and how they try to use violence to spread fear and weaken the State, including trying to increase the murder rate.

"There was actually testimony where one gang leader said 'wait, how come my area is not leading in murders?' That's just how sadistic these gangs are," he said.

Holness stressed that the verdict in the just-concluded Klansman gang trial was a victory for the country, and commended the police as well as the director of public prosecutions for their work in the case.

"Special mention must be made of the two main witnesses who made great personal sacrifices," he added.

He pointed out that the Jamaica Constabulary Force, through intelligence, interrupts at least 300 planned murders annually. Additionally, the states of emergency, combined with intelligence operations, and the gang cases the State continues to put before the courts, have helped to suppress the murder rate.

"However, the root cause organised violence from gangs is always trying to push the murder rate up. It is a continuous struggle, but we are building the capacity to overcome the gangs in a sustainable way. We are going to 'raddam' the criminal gangs!" he declared.

At the same time, the prime minister dismissed criticisms about massive investments in the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the level of military involvement in policing made by Opposition Leader Mark Golding in his budget presentation on Thursday.

Holness argued that security is not only about crime fighting, but also includes resilience, recovery and protecting environmental assets and borders. "To do that you need institutions like the JDF," he said.

In the meantime, he advised that the National Commission for Violence Prevention, set up in 2019, is now developing a 10-year evidence-based national action plan with recommendations for legislative changes, institution building, governance, and best practices, to control and reduce violence as a feature of the Jamaican society. The commission is expected to deliver its report in the coming fiscal year.

"The objective is to create a comprehensive all of society enterprise to engineer a social and cultural transformation of the Jamaican society and culture away from crime and violence," he explained.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter

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