Friday, February 23, 2007

No public law and order

The official numbers continue to show positive economic growth and all indications are that this will continue. As I have stated before, however, our economy is in a fragile situation and must be treated with care, as this economic growth can easily be compromised by crime and reckless political decisions. Outside of crime, my main concern remains that leading up to elections the future of Jamaica, and Jamaicans, will take second place to politicking.

One of the main factors driving investments is confidence and this is a significant reason why Jamaica’s economy experienced some amount of buoyancy over the last six months of 2006. The confidence index showed that investor confidence improved, and consumer confidence remained high, during the last calendar year, and no doubt this would have contributed to the improved economic performance.

Over the first two months of 2007, however, we have seen crime return with a vengeance, with over 200 murders being committed thus far. More frightening, however, is the number of police who seem to be involved in criminal activities. It is indeed a good thing that this is being brought to light. No doubt this level of police corruption has always existed but finally it seems as if the leadership of the police seems to be bent on doing something about it. This is a welcome sign and Jamaicans have waited too long for this type of leadership to emerge, which needs now to be replicated in our political system. If we can weed out corrupt politicians in a similar vein then this country will be one of the best places to live.

Police shake up
On Wednesday both newspapers reported that the police high command is going through a major shake up in order to combat the growing crime problem. I believe that this move is a realization that even at the highest levels the police have been compromised. This endemic corruption within the police force is of course the major inhibitor to solving crime, as if the body that is supposed to fight crime is compromised then there can be no solution.

Over the years we have sought to deal with crime by announcing aggressive assaults consistently through the use of ant-crime squads, which have done nothing more than cause great pain to the less fortunate people. In other words we have tried to deal with crime by “cracking skulls” rather than intelligence, and by doing so have created some criminals within the police force itself.

If we are really serious about solving crime it is not enough to just focus on reducing the murder rate. This is of course necessary in the short term, but a long term solution must be to attack the root of lawlessness. When I look around at places such as Montego Bay and Kingston, it is obvious to me what the main problem is. The fact is that generally there has been a break down of public law and order, which the only one that seems to have made any concerted effort to address, in my opinion, has been Mayor Mckenzie.

I have always said that we cannot be effective in reducing murders over the long run if we cannot even control a few taxi men who continue to treat the roads as if it is their private driveway. Two weeks ago I wrote about the state of Montego Bay, our tourist capital. The main problem with Montego Bay is the lack of public order, and this responsibility I think rests squarely with the parish council and the chamber of commerce.

Recently I met with a good Montegonian, Mark Kerr-Jarrett, and discussed with him the current state of affairs in Montego Bay. He also is of the opinion that the man problem in Montego Bay is a lack of public law and order. He also correctly stated that if Montego Bay is to recover then public law and order must be enforced by the local authorities and police. He agreed with me that if we allow Montego Bay to dissolve into oblivion than the entire Jamaica would suffer, as much of Jamaica’s tourism spending is derived from there. This would be a major blow to our current path of economic growth. Maybe what we need is to have Montegonians elect their Mayor directly, as in Portmore, so that people such as Kerr-Jarrett can run for office without subjecting themselves to the filth of our political system.

Any effort to permanently deal with the scourge of criminality in this country, must not only be addressed at hardened criminals, but must of necessity include an assault on the break down of law and order generally. We need to put a stop to the manufacture of criminals by discontinuing the corruption in the public sector and enforcing discipline in the society. Public law and order issues includes (1) public disturbance through the playing of loud music, at anytime of the day, from dancehalls and churches alike; (2) the lack of proper pedestrian signs, which results in people crossing the roads whenever they feel the need; (3) taxi men who continue to hold bedside conversations in the road with each other, by stopping in the middle of the road; (4) double parking on the roadways; (5) littering of gullies, without sufficient fines and enforcement; and (6) vending on the sidewalks.

Discipline required
Unless we can address these issues we will not be able to maintain discipline in the society. And if we cannot have basic discipline then these same undisciplined people will grow up to be hardened criminals. What happens is that people will continue to buck the system as much as possible to see what more they can get away with. So when goods are imported, without being properly approved, then when people get away with this they will feel that they can bring in illegal goods or even export them. I listened to the reaction of a caller to a call in programme, who lamented the fact that the authorities planned to make skin-bleaching products illegal, and that if it were done then he would vote against the government. This shows that people realize that politicians will sell their soul for political power. The crime would be if the government bows to this sort of pressure.

This is no different in a company. If there are no HR rules to govern behaviour of people in an organization then their will be no lines of authority and chaos will result. In the long run you will find that no decisions can be made as the persons in charge lose authority. A small organization can get away with this, but as the organization grows then strict rules must be in place to govern behaviour else stagnation will take place. Similarly, we cannot expect to grow a country and still have practices that are suitable for a small town.

When there is a breakdown of law and order then it is the biggest “bandooloo” who will prosper, not the one with the best talent. This is the danger that Jamaica faces. This causes inefficiencies to creep into the market, and eventually the country becomes internationally uncompetitive, as even though we will have no regard for efficiency, we will still be subject to the workings of the global economy.

As one talk-show host loves to say, “The man who plays by the rules gets shafted”. If Jamaica does not ensure that there are rules that everyone plays by consistently then the whole country will get shafted.

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