He who does not seize opportunity today will be unable to seize tomorrow’s opportunity. — Somali proverb, Somalia
In Charles Dickens’ 1852 classic Bleak House there is a character named Mr Turveydrop. He is literally obsessed with his appearance and deportment. Dickens says: “He [Old Mr Turveydrop] was a fat, old gentleman with a false complexion, false teeth, false whiskers, and a wig. He had a fur collar and he had a padded breast to his coat, which only wanted a star or a broad blue ribbon to be complete. He was pinched in, and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bear.”
This Andrew Holness-led Administration needs to diligently guard against becoming a victim of political Turveydropianism, particularly in response to the crime wave sweeping the country.
Consider this: “[Minister of National Security] Dr Chang told the House of Representatives on Tuesday [that], while Sunday’s attack at a church and the murders committed during January have shaken the society, the data do not indicate a spike in homicides compared to last year.” ( RJR News, February 2, 2021)
Sounds Turveydropesque to me.
We can quibble over the denotative meaning of the word ‘spike’ until the cows come home. What is not up for debate is the fact that 131 Jamaicans were slaughtered in January 2021, versus 120 in 2020. In any self-respecting country, these data would be cause for national outrage. These were human beings. Some, doubtless, were the main breadwinners for their families.
Dr Chang said the Administration is involved in prescriptive, not reactive management. I am glad to hear this. I would be even happier to see the hard core numbers which prove that the employment of what is undoubtedly a much more efficient management approach is actually bearing the kinds of results which reflect positively in the pockets and on the dinner tables of the majority of ordinary Jamaicans.
I think it is time we dispense with appearances, especially in relation to our spectacularly abnormal murder rate, and focus on some hard core realities.
The vast majority of Jamaicans do not live in gated communities. Most Jamaicans cannot afford to hire the services of private security companies, do not have a licensed firearm, cannot afford ferocious guard dogs, do not own high-tech cameras, and do not earn disposable incomes to enable the purchase of even low-tech security devices to help with the protection of person and property.
Based on the reportage that I have seen, Chang’s presentation was heavy on process and procedure. Dr Chang needs to understand that folks are impressed with measurable results, not process and procedure.
Consider this: ‘Gov’t redoubling efforts on crime legislative agenda — Chang’. The story said, among other things: “Chang, who was addressing a range of issues in the House of Representatives Tuesday, said he has engaged the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Department to help craft and pass critical legislation.” ( The Gleaner, January 3, 2021)
This sounds to me like a political dodge. Chang sounds like he is playing for time, while terrified Jamaicans are pleading for help and answers.
The fact is the Jamaica Labour Party has formed the Administration since February 25, 2016. Five years hence, we are talking about setting in motion processes to“craft critical legislation”. We should have jumped that hurdle already, Dr Chang.
We are accustomed to statements of regret/condolence and promises of legislative actions by successive ministers of national security when there is a spike in crime. These are politically prudent, but certainly not practically sufficient. Transformational actions are needed.
The Andrew Holness-led Administration, based on public information, has pumped unprecedented human and physical resources into national security. It has indicated that it is committed for the long haul. That is good!
Five years on, it is quite reasonable for Jamaicans to be asking when will we begin to see some seismic observable improvements in the most critical areas of our national security. As a matter of fact, it is not just a responsibility that we ask this and related questions, it is a duty.
The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), led by Mark Golding, last week missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate a new and different brand of leadership when it latched on to stale appearances and old brooches in the midst of the wave of crime sweeping the country.
This newspaper’s editorial last Tuesday was spot on when it made these and related comments: “With the country in pain and outrage over the execution of Mrs Andrea Lowe Garwood as she worshipped at church in Falmouth, Trelawny, on Sunday, the best the PNP could offer is a corny attack on the Government.
“In a press statement entirely bereft of suggestions for a solution expected from patriotic men and women seized of the urgency of the problem, the Opposition merely called on the prime minister to ‘break his silence on the current crime wave’.
“ ‘The Opposition is extremely disappointed at the prime minister’s silence in the midst of the crime wave roiling the country for the last two weeks…’ is what Mr Mark Golding’s spokesman on crime had to offer.”
Notwithstanding the Opposition’s obvious fixation with a moribund platform, we must not lose sight of the fact that team Holness is at bat. Political foibles aside, the Opposition is correct in its amplification of the extremely frightening spate of murders in 2021, irrespective of Dr Chang insistence that there was no spike compared to last year.
Up to the time of writing this article, 141 Jamaicans had been murdered since the start of the year. We have been afflicted with an abnormal murder rate for decades. Recall that in 2005 our murder rate was 64 per 100,000 — one of the highest in the world. In 2017 Jamaica’s homicide rate was 56 per 100,000. In 2018 the homicide rate dropped to 47 per 100,000; then it was three times higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2019 our murder rate was 47.4 per 100,000; and, in 2020, 46.5 per 100,000 — the region’s highest homicide rate.
According to Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) official statistics the country has had over a 1,000 murders every year since 2004.
The United Nations considers any homicide rate above 10 per 100,000 citizens to be an “epidemic”. You can do the math, as the Americans say.
“England — alas, my country! — has degenerated very much, and is degenerating every day. She has not many gentlemen left,” says Mr Turveydrop. Were we to exchange the word England for Jamaica, we would be guilty of taking slight liberties with Dickens, but could not reasonably be accused of violent disproportion.
The brutal murder of Andrea Lowe Garwood as she worshipped at church in Falmouth, Trelawny, last Sunday, is the latest indication that our society continues to rapidly implode.
The fact that scores of businesses pulled down the shutters early last Monday because of rumours that the fatal shooting in west Kingston of the reputed ex-lieutenant of drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke, Harry McLeod, better known by his alias Harry Dog, would trigger reprisals, illustrates that something is very rotten in the State of Jamaica!
Nationwide News Network reported last Monday that the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) had deployed additional buses in response to reports of a potential threat of violence. JUTC confirmed the deployment.
Downtown Kingston is the commercial aorta of Jamaica. It has been long obvious to me that the rule of law in our country is stumbling, at best; and precariously perched, at worst. This decaying state of affairs is not unique to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) enclave of Kingston Western.
Recall that when William “Willie Haggart” Moore, an alleged PNP enforcer, was murdered in Arnett Gardens, located in the PNP stronghold of St Andrew Southern, the constituency was on edge for days on end, business operators were jittery about keeping the shutters up, but for short periods.
This obvious thumbing of the nose at the rule of law has happened numerous times in urban communities, and a handful of times in certain rural environs.
What level of sustained investments can we hope to attract when the State continues to fail in respect to its primary function?
Recall that when 81-year-old Iciline McFarlane and her granddaughters, 10- and six-year-old Christina and Mishane McFarlane, were executed by fiendish predators at their Tryall Heights home in St Catherine, in November last year, I pointed out that we had begun to descend the present murderous slope many years ago. Today, we see our descent in real time via social and other media.
Where do we go from here? I think in order for the positive seismic shift against crime to start a critical mass of the unaffected has to be outraged as those who are directly affected.
Foolishly, successive administrations have put on a Turveydropian overcoat in the midst of crises. This is a massive mistake. The Administration needs to spearhead big, bold, and brave actions… fast!
‘Can’t drag your feet on crime fight, PM’ was the title of my column on October 4, 2020: I noted: “The first 100 days in the life of an Administration are usually the most crucial. Will the Administration choose the road not taken? Think Robert Frost. Or, the one more travelled.”
It is clear to me that, so far, we are way along the road more travelled.
Where is the mischief?
The Opposition might have got a peek at the upcoming budget presentation of our Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke. Maybe it was in an effort to steal the minister’s thunder that Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson recently called for the Holness Administration to bring on another stimulus package. He says it is needed to give Jamaica’s tanking economy a fighting chance.
Except for those who have just landed from Mars, we all know that the practice of Opposition spokespersons trying to steal the spotlight is commonplace and predictable. We know, too, that the JLP and PNP benefit from ‘friendly’ eyes and ears inside ministries and related government agencies. Of course, in the instance of Robinson’s call for another stimulus package, I have no evidence that any information was leaked to him. Neither do I know if the Administration will announce another stimulus package. But, if one were announced shortly, I think it would be a good thing. Folks, especially now, are in need of good news, given the numerous negatives operating in Jamaica.
Around the world, governments are hurrying to roll out various stimulus packages to ensure that they keep consumer demand off of life support, given that jobs numbers are haemorrhaging, foreign direct investments are limping, export growth has been badly injured by COVID-19, and Government spending is heavily constricted.
If Robinson did get a peek into Dr Clarke’s presentation, and it proves an accurate one, the Opposition would have helped the Administration to do its job. I say, let them go right ahead in that vein. It is a win-win for all sides.
Rwanda’s COVID-19 story
In early January, this year, I pointed out that in mid-2020 Foreign Policy magazine had ranked Senegal number two in the world for the effectiveness of her response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Another African country which has gained international recognition for its management of COVID-19 is Rwanda.
Up until last Thursday Rwanda had 15,688 cases, 10,754 recoveries, and 205 deaths related to COVID-19. Rwanda does over 4,000 tests each day.
The Australian think tank Lowy Institute recently ranked Rwanda number one in Africa and number six in the world for its management of COVID-19. Lowy Institute examined 98 countries globally. Its report noted that smaller populations, cohesive societies, and capable institutions were big factors in successfully dealing with the pandemic.
The World Bank 2019 figures indicate Rwanda has a population of 12.63 million.
We could learn many things from Rwanda.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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