Ronald Thwaites | Wrong thinking, wrong spending
Last week, Parliament went through the ritual of extending a state of emergency in St James and a zone of special operations in Mt Salem. I voted in favour of the extensions, not because of any justification given by the prime minister, but out of respect for the considered judgements of the chief of staff and commissioner, who I want to trust.
Unless compelling reasons arise between now and then, I do not intend to support renewal of these measures next time. And I respectfully appreciate the abstention recorded by Senator Knight.
We were asked to support the most extreme steps permitted by the Constitution without reports and costs but on a single premise: the shooting and murder rate have decreased in the areas covered. Very good, but on this reasoning we should have a perpetual police state over the whole island. Is that really the substance of the never-to-be-announced crime plan that we were told the governing party had before the election?
It sounded half-plausible that the parish and Mt Salem needed to be pacified before meaningful social reconstruction happens. But then, look hard at the record of social intervention in Mt Salem alone contained in Ministry Paper No. 99 and the inadequacy of thought and expenditure becomes painfully evident.
It is really pathetic. The administration has lumped back-to-school treat, rat control, classroom repair, issuance of birth certificates with some zinc-fence removal and pothole repair as the sum of the improvements made so far to conclusively reduce, rather than merely supress, crime and violence! All necessary and very routine. None of it requiring a suspension of civil rights.
I looked in vain for the creation, training and placement of residents in 500 or so jobs which would defang the ideleness and criminal temptation. Where is the boot camp (not a summer camp please) for all unattached youth to be indoctrinated in (yes!) manners, discipline and productivity?
The Opposition went along with the extension for fear that it would be blamed for the crime which will predictably recur at some point if the emergency powers are withdrawn without more.
But how much longer can that posture be sustained? And does the Government in waiting have any more of a plan than the Government of the day? Asking for more zones of the present type is neither imaginative nor purposeful.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has released a study encouraging Jamaica to spend smarter, and not necessarily more money, to reduce crime. Dr Herbert Gayle, who does serious work on crime reduction, points to the report's emphasis on crime-prevention measures - replete "social services and a justice system that gives people a sense that there is justice and access to education for all". This more than "curative" expenditure predominantly on the security forces and states of emergency may not yield long-term results.
Nothing that Parliament heard, read or did last week assures the nation that we are on the way to achieve these objectives. In fact, although we don't dare say it, those measures are beyond the elasticity of the present political economy. We would have to refashion our thinking and the Budget to accomodate what the IDB and Gayle are telling us would work.
But there are some questions we must answer and some things we can afford to do now. Two weeks ago, Delroy Chuck wondered aloud why so many young men continue to clog the list of new criminal cases. Trying to elicit deeper discourse, I asked him why he thought this was so. He has not answered yet. To do so would take him and us into deep reflection about national priorities. We are not ready for that.
Consider Gayle's recommendations
Then on Tuesday, I asked PM Holness at least to consider two of Gayle's important recommendations. Would the State offer focused assistance to impoverished female-headed households where boys are routinely deprived and often tortured? The statistics show that these youth frequently transition into crime and are responsible for repeat murders.
Also, could a programme be implemented immediately to track students who drop out, attend irregularly, or are excluded from school, since these, too, by a factor of 25:1, are more likely to be recruited into the criminal gangs that we say we are dismantling but show little evidence of their arrest and convictions? There was no response.
So the dragnets will likely continue, the arrest records that compromise the future prospects of those already disadvantaged will increase, the violence squeezed out of the targeted areas into other locales, while the crooked thinking and not-smart spending persist.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.