Friday, July 08, 2016
The chickens have started to roost
The phrase “The chickens have come home to roost”, can refer to a situation where something bad happens after an action, or inaction, occurs. So if a person goes around defrauding people, and is finally caught and goes to prison, then one could use that phrase.
This phrase can be used in relation to the present economic and social conditions Jamaica finds itself in today. When we think about the untenable crime situation in St James (the tourist capital of Jamaica) and the general levels of indiscipline and lack of law and order in Jamaica today, we can safely say that the chickens are starting to roost. That is to say that what we are seeing in Jamaica today is a direct consequence (even if long term) of the way we have practised our governance, and politics in particular.
When Commissioner Williams said that the problems we are seeing with crime in Montego Bay are deep-seated social issues, he is correct. This is the same reason why I have repeatedly said that Jamaica’s economic problems are social.
The fact is that the crime situation we see in Montego Bay today, is not unique to Montego Bay. We have had similar crime spikes in places like Kingston and Spanish Town. In all cases, they have left the nearby residents in a state of fear. So the Montego Bay situation may be what is current but it is certainly not isolated.
And each time we have these upsurges, we normally find a short-term solution, but fail to address the underlying problem. This of course does not mean that short-term solutions are not necessary, but they must always be accompanied long-term solutions also.
It is this lack of long-term solutions, that causes the predictable upsurge in crime to occur every few years or so. And although we do need far more resources, especially in the short term, the fact is that the main problem is not a lack of resources. It is one of political will and enforcement of our laws.
One of the problems with how we manage our resources is that we wait until there is an emergency and then find the resources to throw at it. Never mind that when the emergency occurs it costs you five times more than the preventative cost.
As I always say, fiscal policy in Jamaica is a simple math exercise of addition and subtraction. There is no real strategy about how fiscal policy can be used as a tool for development, and not just focus on how much money is being spent on a project, but rather what is the value added. But then again maybe most of our people in authority don’t understand the concept of value added.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that is we create an environment where women have nine children without any way of feeding them properly; if taxis, buses, motor cyclists, and pedestrians are allowed to use the road as they wish; if people are allowed to squat and build communities as they like; if the justice system turns at a snail’s pace; and other such forms of lack of order are allowed; then what we are doing is laying a fertile ground for criminality.
But what we do is fail to enforce traffic laws or demand order on the road; we fail to enforce the Noise Abatement Act; we turn a blind eye at the squatter communities, until they develop into major communities; and we fail to enforce zoning laws. And when we fail to demand that laws be obeyed and that indiscipline must be rooted out, then we wonder why after many decades of neglect of enforcing the laws that we now find ourselves facing the social and economic challenges we have today.
In other words, how do we expect children to grow up and be successful professionals, if when they are young they are not taught what is right and what is wrong.
If we fail to do this, then the major role of the police will be to react to crime, and if there is a prevalence of crime, as we have today, that effectiveness is significantly reduced. Then what we do is apply a “shock and awe” action to the problem. Crime then dies down for a year, or two if we are lucky, and then rears its ugly head again often with more aggression.
This of course is because we have failed to address the deep-rooted social issues faced daily by our citizens, including children.
And then when these very same children, who have grown up in deplorable conditions (because of lack of urban planning), or grown up listening to deviant musical lyrics (because of lack of not enforcing the Noise Abatement Act), or see their father being abused by the police, or are abused themselves with little consequence in many instances — these children grow up and become criminals. We send the police to address the situation, by which time many of those children are lost, and further exacerbate our social issues.
Minister Montague has, in my view, spoken to some short-term approaches that are needed. However, what we must start to address immediately, and at the same time, are the longer-term solutions like enforcement of road discipline, and other laws like the Noise Abatement Act and the protection of our children from abuse.
Unless we can do these things, we will not be solving the crime and indiscipline issue, but rather just placing a band aid on a sore that will become worse. As we saw when we celebrated the reduction in crime in 2010, but which was just a temporary reprieve.
There have been many very insightful studies that we have just placed on a shelf, and not sought to implement. Either because of our inefficient bureaucracy (the number one problem to doing business) or lack of political will to do so. The fact is that no one who has had responsibility for policy to date can claim success, as where we are today is testament to what the efforts have been before.
One of the things I would love to see put back in place is the Rule of Law Committee, a private and public committee that was focused on addressing the crime problem — just as EPOC and ESET were set up. This is needed urgently, as because of our actions, (or inactions), in the past — the chickens have started to roost.