By Dennis Chung
JAMAICA IS REALLY an amazing place. Over the last week, while we have all recognized the need to get economic and social development going, and in a week when we are expecting the Finance Minister to tell us how he will finance the fiscal expenditure, we have been bombarded with discussions of toilet paper, markets, and divine intervention.
These are important issues, and correctly are discussed by the media.
But what we really need is a society where when these matters come up they are dealt with immediately, so that we have an agreeable solution.
The issues surrounding the need for divine intervention, however is a very important one. Crime robs us of an estimated four percent of GDP in Jamaica, or approximately J$60 billion, and in doing so inhibits a lot of the productive capacity and competitiveness of the country. For example, the main reason for the high cost of agricultural production in Jamaica seems to be praedial larceny.
It is therefore very important to deal with Jamaica’s crime monster, as if we are unable to do so then it means that anything else we do to attempt to make the economy, and society, better, will amount to futility.
So why have we not been able to deal with this crime problem. I have some views, which are by no means based on any expertise in crime fighting, but a logical approach to problem solving.
Let me first say that I think that the police force, under Commissioner Ellington, has done quite a lot to help bring back some amount of confidence in the force, but still has a long way to go. Especially when they keep reversing some of the progress with actions that cause disruption in community relations.
In order for us to get a handle on crime, the first thing we must do is understand that we cannot sustainably solve the problem if we do not have a disciplined and orderly society.
In other words, it is difficult to create order within an environment of disorder. So if the parents in a household carry on with unethical behaviour in front of their children, then more than likely the children will act out what they see rather than what they are told.
So it is always going to be difficult to solve crime if we do not deal with the indiscipline on the roads, the violations of the noise abatement act and the zoning laws, and the littering of the roads. These are simple things to deal with, but unless we address them then it will be like expecting someone to emerge from a mud lake without any mud on them.
A second point is that justice must be swift and low-cost. If we are serious about taming the crime monster, we cannot have a situation where the police make an arrest, carry someone to court, and the case takes five years to complete. We also cannot have a situation where jurors go to court and don’t even get lunch money, or transportation costs, reimbursed. And then if they do not turn up they get in trouble with the law. Imagine being asked to preside over the life or death of an accused, and you can’t concentrate because you are hungry, or thinking about how you are going to get home.
The police need to treat all crimes as equally violations of the law and act speedily in all cases. So when someone reports domestic violence or praedial larceny, it is important for the police to treat all those cases as urgent.
Don’t wait until the petty thief or the domestic violence accused graduate to more serious crimes to act. In other words, if you do not act decisively when a young child tries to always get their own way, then you will have to deal with a bigger problem when they are older and may have to apply even more stringent measures.
The law also needs to be applied equally to everyone in Jamaica. And in this case I am not talking just about the person with connections, but also when we give someone leeway because we think they are among the less fortunate. So the sentiment is normally to give the small man a chance. Soon you find out that you have a reason for giving everyone a chance and eventually corruption flourishes.
It is also very important that before any charges are brought against someone, or any accusations are made public, that proper investigation takes place first. There have been many cases of people being charged, or accused of wrongdoing which either proves false, or lacks sufficient evidence. This negatively affects the credibility of law enforcement.
The recent example of the traffic ticket amnesty is an illustration.
The last point, but by no means least, is that the enforcers of laws, such as the police, cannot be seen to disobey it. It is very important that the credibility and authority of those persons in charge of enforcing the rules remain intact.
So if Jamaica is to solve the crime problem, we cannot just focus on the outcome (such as murders). But we must of necessity, address the root causes of the problem, of which the main one would be a disciplined and orderly society.
Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and is currently Vice President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica. He has written two books: Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development – 2009; and Achieving Life’s Equilibrium – balancing health, wealth, and happiness for optimal living – 2012. Both books are available at Amazon in both digital and paperback format. His blog isdcjottings.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.