Friday, January 20, 2017

Understanding the root cause of our challenges

I have often wondered why we Jamaicans have always been able to recognise our problems but we have never been able to solve them.
We constantly pile up study after study, we form multiple commissions to examine the same problem year after year, with maybe a different title and a new set — or a new generation — of people. And so we go along our merry way, having the same problems in 2016 that we had in 1962.

Because we are a “bright” and creative people, we always seem to articulate the same problem very well in different ways. The result is that we never recognise what the fundamental cause of our problem is, because we somehow always focus on the symptoms, which we articulate so well.

So after numerous Commissions of Inquiry and piles of commentary and reports on what our problems are, we still face the same challenges year after year, disguised in different suits.

One such criticism that is now in vogue is the ineffectiveness of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) at solving crime. And I would be the very first to admit that the JCF has significant challenges, and has arguably had a leadership deficit over the decades, as no one person can be held accountable for the current state of affairs. It is also true that no one political party can be held accountable for our economic and social challenges, as they have both made unwise decisions over the years, not only as Government or Opposition, but also as Parliamentarians and representatives of the people.

The JCF, therefore, can be seen as the driver of a car that is in a race and going at 50 mph, while everyone else is going at 80 mph (globally). The car is not performing at optimum capacity because it has not been serviced, it has very old tyres, and it is sputtering because it has been filled with “bad gas”.

People look on and say the driver is not the best, and he/she needs to be replaced because the race is being lost. All this time there is no realisation that if you change the driver, even though he/she may have some clear deficiencies, it will not make the car go any faster. And in fact one cannot do a proper assessment of the driver’s ability if the car is in such a poor condition.
Similarly, it is always very easy for us to blame the JCF for the high levels of crime in the society, because they are the most visible part of the justice system. But we fail to recognise that the justice system, and I should say the law and order environment, is much more than the JCF. In fact, the JCF often intervenes when everything else in the chain of that system has failed.

So the policeman is not there to prevent crime, but rather to arrest it. Therefore, shouldn’t the emphasis and discussion be around crime prevention, and hence what sort of system needs to be in place to achieve this?

In my view, it makes more sense to do what is necessary to prevent crime than to put all our resources into solving it, because by then you would have already had a victim. This approach would also place less stress on the JCF and would allow them more opportunities to solve crime, and would also allow us a fairer chance to assess their performance.

One example is the derelict traffic ticketing system and Road Traffic legislation we have in place.

I have been able to get information from the JCF that between the period November 2010 and April 2016, 45 people in the Corporate Area and St Catherine had more than 500 outstanding tickets each. The total number of outstanding tickets for these 45 persons was an unbelievable 30,757, or an average of 683 tickets per person. And this doesn’t include drivers with less than 500 tickets outstanding.

To drive the point home even further, an example was given of one person who the ticketing system showed was issued 117 tickets of which 103 remained outstanding. After being arrested he was taken to court, where 78 warrants for disobedience of the summonses were issued and he was fined $90,000 for 78 tickets. He had another 22 matters outstanding, and the next day was fined $25,000 for 9 matters. On that same day I am told that he was committing the same offences for which he was brought to the court.

The result, the police say, is that his behaviour is now mimicked by most of the other illegal operators, as all the passengers want to take his car because of how quickly he gets them to their destination.

This example shows that there is a problem with legislation, as the long delay in passing the Road Traffic Act causes uncertainty in fines, and ties the judge’s hands as to whether to suspend the licence or seize the car. The passengers also contribute to the lawlessness because they know the man is an illegal operator and that he breaks the speed limit, but they gravitate towards him. It has also resulted in everyone now behaving in that manner because that is what the customer demands.

The result is that we have an accepted chaotic transportation system overrun by illegal operators and a sympathetic public.
We then say to the police,”Why are you not solving this problem?” We might as well just ask them, “Why aren’t you able to carry water in a basket?” The Parliament fails to provide the proper legislative framework and resources (as the ticketing system does not link the various arms of the justice system and tax system), the police are asked to work in very unfavourable conditions, and the public is supporting lawlessness.

At the end of the day, however, some politician will go on a platform and say the Government is not solving crime, the Government and people will say the police are inefficient, and we will call for a commission of inquiry, create another report, and still have the same challenges we have had for the past 40 or more years. And in the end we will be no better able to properly assess the effectiveness of the JCF, although we may end up implementing some changes when we really don’t know how effective they will be.