Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Peter Espeut | Social and economic sickness

Published:Friday | January 11, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Peter Espeut
In this February 8, 2018, photograph, Michael Logan 'rough-casts' a wall erected in Denham Town under the Zinc Fence Removal Project, which was part of social intervention under ZOSO. File
A resident of Regent Street is searched by a policeman during the second declared ZOSO in Denham Town, Kingston, last year.

One of the first things you learn as a development scientist is that if it was easy, it would have been done already! By now we know that dealing with the cancer of crime in a sick society like Jamaica is not a simple matter.

Why do I say that Jamaica is a sick society? By any measure, Jamaica is one of the most unequal countries in the world, which is one type of social and economic sickness. In the 1990s, Professor Carl Stone provided data to show that Jamaica had the 11th-largest gap between the rich and the poor in the world, and the largest rate at which that gap was widening (see Stone's Democracy and Clientelism in Jamaica).

The situation has not much changed. And what is worse, we largely consider this gross inequality to be normal - the way things are. And our sensibilities and consciences are numbed in the process. Some of us have a personal and vested interest in things remaining the way they are.

When it comes to paying taxes, in 2010, it was the poor of Jamaica that - proportionately - bore the greater share of the burden by paying close to one-fifth of their income in both direct and indirect taxes, while the rich paid only one-third of their income in taxes. And with taxation policy shifting to more indirect taxation, the poor now pay - proportionally - even more.

There is no other sector wherein Jamaica's social sickness is more pervasive than Jamaica's education system. Schools (primary and secondary) owned and operated by the Government offer a much lower quality of education than those owned and operated by churches and trusts. Statistically speaking, starting one's educational career in a government primary school means low levels of literacy and qualifications attained. Jamaica's education system reproduces a profoundly unequal class system.

For social scientists, the high crime rate (especially murders) in this sick society is not surprising. Were it to be low, that would be surprising! There is a component of social protest in crime and dysfunctional behaviour in extremely unequal societies like ours.

I believe that those who loudly ask the Government to announce an anti-crime plan wish that crime would be reduced while other things remain the same, so that they could continue their lives in relative comfort and privilege. It is not possible to reduce the incidence of crime while leaving Jamaica's sick society intact.




This is why shortly after Jamaica's first zone of special operations (ZOSO) was declared in September 2017, I said in my column of September 22: "The slogan describing the strategy to be employed in the zones of special operations (ZOSOs) was 'Clear, Hold, Build'. ... What is supposed to make ZOSO different is the 'Build' component, where social interventions are to be put in place to convert the crime-ridden, potholey, garbage-strewn ghetto areas with zinc fences and pit toilets, where the theft of electricity and water is common, and where illiteracy and unemployment are high among the residents, into a place of choice for Jamaicans to live, work, raise families, and do business."

I wrote then that this was certainly a step in the right direction, but that the skills needed to first plan and then implement 'Build' were not resident in the Ministry of National Security. It would take a team of sociologists, anthropologists, and social psychologists to assess the particular problems in each ZOSO, and then another team of human and community development scientists to design and implement the interventions.

And it is not possible to have an island of development (ZOSO) in a sea of underdevelopment. It is all of Jamaica that needs to be built.

To me, it appears that the concept of ZOSO is unworkable, and has - so far - failed.

If we want peace, we need to build justice. First, we have to cure and rehabilitate our sick society.

- Peter Espeut is a development scientist. Email feedback to