Betrayed - Politicians Fail People Again
Published: Sunday | July 25, 2010


Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

Those who say the recently ended state of emergency (SOE) served no real purpose must place little value on human life. From January 1 to May 31, Jamaica experienced 737 murders, or 4.8 per day. Between June 1 and July 19 there were 137 murders, or 2.8 per day. That is an over 40 per cent drop. Had the January to May rate continued, June and July would have seen 238 murders. This means probably 101 Jamaican lives were saved over 49 days.

Jamaica's five-year average murder rate of 51 per 100,000 is by far the world's highest. We have a higher violent death rate than terrorist-plagued states such as Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. Those who claim that the SOE was not warranted, as it should only be used in extraordinary circumstances, are, in effect, arguing that our world-leading homicide level is a 'normal' situation that should be allowed to continue indefinitely.

The overwhelming majority of Jamaicans unquestionably wanted the SOE extended for at least another month. Nearly all my customers and my staff and taxi men and street vendors kept saying the same thing - "We feeling safer, and we want to keep feeling safer, so keep things going as they are!". Did any of those members of parliament (MPs) who abstained in Tuesday's vote consult with their constituents?

Intellectual irresponsibility

No one has a greater knowledge of the national security situation than the police commissioner and Jamaica Defence Force chief of staff. Why then should anyone doubt their opinion that another month of the SOE was necessary before a regular crime-fighting strategy could be put in place? To lambaste the security forces high command's call for an extension without even asking their reasons why, as so many of our talking heads did, was indefensible intellectual irresponsibility.

But despite the wishes of the public and the security high command, Parliament failed to muster the 31 votes needed for an extension. Not only were we betrayed by our politicians again, but they then insulted our intelligence.

Not even a child could buy the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) argument that it did not have a guaranteed majority of 31 on hand because it was only informed of the security forces' request on Saturday, when some MPs were already travelling. Since the SOE was up for renewal this week, the entire country expected such a request to be laid before Parliament on Tuesday. I agree with Portia Simpson Miller that its lack of a full quorum showed the JLP did not really want an extension. But then, neither did the People's National Party (PNP).



One of the biggest factors in the SOE's success was that it freed the security forces from political interference. Detained criminals could no longer depend on their 'official' protectors to set them free. The logical end of an extension would have been the eventual breaking up of all violence-plagued political strongholds. 'Mother of all garrisons' Tivoli has been disarmed. But crime can never be permanently brought under control until we also normalise its hard-core daughters such as Kingston Central, Kingston East and Port Royal, St Andrew Western, St Andrew East Central, St Andrew South West, St Andrew South, Clarendon Central and St Catherine Central.

Since the PNP indisputably has more garrisons than the JLP, its SOE abstention served the short-term interest of preserving its 'declared before the vote' seat advantage. But this came at the expense of destroying its long-term public standing. A 40-per cent murder rate drop and 101 lives saved in 49 days is all the empirical data Jamaicans need to prove the SOE's efficacy. Its myopic 'We will not support the JLP even to save innocent lives!' stance on Tuesday has probably made the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP as unelectable now as the Edward Seaga-led JLP was in the 1990s.


In my cynical view - and when it comes to politicians the most cynical explanation is usually the correct one - the whole thing was nothing less than a grand bi-partisan conspiracy to stop the police and soldiers from degarrisonising the island. The last two months are proof that our security forces can control crime when the politicians are taken out of the equation. What everyone now fears is a return to 'defend yours, I will defend my own' business as normal and the sky-high murder rate that went with it.

Bruce Golding's refusal to come completely clean with the public on the Manatt affair can only lead one to conclude that he is still hiding something. At least when it came to Trafigura, Portia Simpson Miller followed the old saw that's it's better to remain silent and be thought a liar than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Yet, whatever its moral implications, the Manatt matter proved a practical blessing for the country, for it left the prime minister so badly wounded that he had no choice but to do what the people wanted, namely extradite Dudus Coke and tackle crime head on. Since Mr Golding displayed no more seriousness on the issue before May 23 than did the previous government, his new 'Mr Tough on Crime' chest-beating comes across as nothing but naked political expediency. However, it was naked political expediency that for once was in the country's interest.

Two months ago civil society had Mr Golding so tightly by the cojones that only a full-scale attack on crime could have kept him in office. But, thanks to its own folly, it is now the PNP that stands discredited in the public's eye. With the pressure now off him, will Mr Golding return to defending the corrupt and violent status quo that this country has been mired in for the last 20 years?

Like most Jamaicans, I am livid with both parties for deliberately throwing away a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to break the back of crime. But then the PNP is currently so bereft of coherent leadership that no one expects much logic from it these days. It's likely no accident that Dr Peter Phillips, one of the few comrades who seems to think before engaging his mouth, absented himself from the SOE debate. And if sensible folk like Fitz Jackson had followed their obvious instinct to extend, and disregarded party lines, they would now be almost semi-national heroes.

The person I am most angry with however, is Bruce Golding. He has certainly disappointed those of us who even half believed his National Democratic Movement (NDM) and JLP manifesto promises of transparent and accountable governance. But then experience teaches that the most you can expect from any politician is intelligent self-interest.

So why would Mr Golding not make absolutely certain that the JLP had the 31 votes needed to extend the SOE, and so allow the security forces to try and permanently severe the links between criminals and politicians? It is certainly in his and the JLP's interest to have the country degarrisonised. Yes, the Labourites would lose some safe seats, but the comrades would lose many more.

Vested interests

Mr Golding has gutlessly allowed a minority of vested interests in his party to derail the national interest. If his tough talk was genuine, he would have ignored the JLP foot-draggers and called for a new state of emergency. The Jamaican people would unquestionably have backed him, so Mr Golding's mealy-mouthed speech on Wednesday night was nothing but specious grandstanding.

Mr Golding may well lead his party to victory in the next general election. But as, they say, a politician thinks of the next election while a statesman thinks of the next generation. As things now stand, Bruce Golding is on the way to being condemned by history as the man who was handed an unprecedented opportunity to make Jamaica safe and prosperous and failed to do so because of a lack of political courage.

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