Tue | Nov 21, 2017

Editorial | On the cusp of anarchy

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Now that the South East St Mary by-election is behind him and his party has strengthened its position in Parliament, maybe Prime Minister Andrew Holness is now able to focus on the deepening state of anarchy in Jamaica, evidenced by the approximately five persons a day murdered in a country of 2.7 million people.

Put differently, since January, around 1,360 people have been victims of deliberate homicides. With seven weeks still to go in 2017, the killings are more than the number for all of 2016, and are 27 per cent above the figure at this time last year. At this rate, there will be more than 1,700 murders in Jamaica this year - for a homicide rate around 64 per 100,000 - or around two per cent higher than the previous worst-ever year for murder in 2009. Non-fatal shootings have also increased significantly over 2016.

Few of these cases are ever solved, in the sense of someone being arrested and charged, brought to court and, ultimately, convicted for the crime. In other words, murderous criminals in Jamaica can, and do, act with impunity. They deny authority or established order and, despite the structures of a functioning state in the control of Mr Holness' Government, they operate in an environment of near lawlessness. Or, so it seems.

Unchecked, this situation contains the seeds for the atrophying of the State and the creation of an anarchic, dystopian Jamaica, of which this country had more than a glimpse seven years ago with the Tivoli Gardens war waged by Christopher Coke's crime-fuelled private militia.

This corrosion didn't start with Mr Holness' watch and its resurgence and acceleration are perhaps unrelated to his premiership. But he is the man on the bridge. It is to him whom we look for the extraordinary leadership required to reverse this crisis, presuming he has it within him.

If he is prepared to have a go at it, Mr Holness first has to appreciate it is an effort that can't be defined solely by the traditional responses of Government to problems or determined by the political advantage to be gained by outcomes. In this regard, a few things are essential.

 

ASSUME OWNERSHIP FOR ACTIONS

 

First, Mr Holness has to assume full ownership of the effort, signalling to his ministers and the bureaucracy that it is the priority of his government, with its initiatives carrying the clear imprimatur of the prime minister. He has to be willing to take risks and be aware that the effort will require an unprecedented mobilisation of the Jamaican people, whose buy-in will be critical to success.

We have seen embryonic signs from the prime minister and his ministers that he has some appreciation of the necessary approach, such as his meeting last week in Montego Bay with the city's private-sector leaders, which we assume was as much to hear their fears as their potential solutions to the wave of killings in western Jamaica. This dialogue has to be expanded and ways found to integrate public- and private-sector resources, including technology, into the anti-crime effort.

Mr Holness also has to take the initiative to communities across Jamaica in a programme that transcends partisan politics. This won't happen if there is either active or passive resistance from the political Opposition. It is against this backdrop that we are disappointed that Mr Holness has either ignored or has been slow to act on this newspaper's suggestion for the resuscitation of the Vale Royal Talks between Government and Opposition, but with the private sector at the table, with a primary focus on crime.

At the same time, the Security Programme Oversight Committee established to monitor the implementation of security programmes and policies, still embryonic, has to grow quickly into an activist body.

Further, the abiding lesson left by Jamaica's retreat from the cusp of economic bankruptcy and debt default is that two things are necessary when the country faces a deep crisis: it needs a champion and, unfortunately, an external force with the wherewithal to ensure that the medicine is imbibed. The IMF played the latter role. In this case, Mr Holness can be the champion.