Anthony Clayton | Could this be the turning point in the fight against crime and corruption?
Crime and corruption became entrenched in Jamaica in the 1970s, when both parties were involved in creating garrisons, arming their followers and directing violence. The homicide rate in Jamaica, which was close to the world average at the time of Independence, rose to be the third-highest in the world. By the end of 2016, the rate of killing in the parish of St James was four times higher than in Afghanistan.
Some politicians, and their allies, took advantage of the chaos at the time to misappropriate public funds; fortunes were amassed, and some of that money was laundered into property and businesses. There are respectable businesses in Jamaica today that were founded on the proceeds of crime. The dons of today – or at least the successful ones, who tend to keep a low profile – are following the same model. They, too, are laundering the proceeds of their crimes into property and businesses, which they probably hope to leave to their children. But these business empires are built on a foundation of blood and suffering.
Price of Crime
Jamaica has never yet managed to free itself from these deadly scourges of violence and corruption, and we are all still paying a heavy price. Crime costs Jamaica at least four per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) every year. However, when indirect costs such as lost investment are included, it is probably over seven per cent of GDP.
Where would Jamaica be today had we not suffered these appalling losses for the last 50 years? The numbers are in the National Security Policy, which estimates that Jamaica’s economy should be from three to 10 times bigger than it is now. It is important to remember that Jamaica used to be a bigger economy than Singapore, and was on course to become one of the most prosperous nations in the world, until our politics degenerated into corruption and the fight for scarce benefits and spoils.
Any resolute and united nation can shut down crime and corruption in short order. Italy introduced strong Proceeds of Crime legislation, and is now seizing US$8 billion a year from the Mafia, while Colombia broke the power of their largest narco-trafficking gang in just six years.
The world has moved on since the 1970s and 1980s. There is a new generation in public life. Few now believe that violence is a valid form of political argument, and most people are opposed to the theft of public assets and tax dollars. So why have we not won our war against crime?
One reason is, our politics is still compromised. There are many good people in public life today, but there are also some who are deeply corrupt, who benefit from bribes and the placing of contracts; some with connections to organised crime and who get a share of the proceeds of crime from the dons in their constituencies. There are such people on both sides of the House, so how can one party call out the other? Both parties know each other’s crimes, but they also know their own. So both parties have been reluctant to start a war that would be guaranteed to cause an equal amount of collateral damage to them. As a result, Jamaica has been locked into a long-running pattern of failure, of crime, corruption and violence, reduced investment, low productivity and low growth. This combination has crippled the economy and destroyed the lives and hopes of generation after generation of young Jamaicans.
The solution has been clear for a long time. It is that both parties should agree that they will do whatever it takes to rid the country of this plague. And, if there are guilty people on both sides of the House, then let all of them be exposed and driven out of public life. Let criminal assets be returned to the taxpayers. Let the garrisons be dismantled, even if it means that some seats will change hands. Let there be a bipartisan consensus to reform the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and give the country the clean, modern, professional police service that it needs and deserves.
The process of reform may be painful at times, but at the end the two parties would have cleansed themselves, and Jamaica will finally have an honest political system, with politicians who care about their integrity and are not afraid of transparency.
It appears that we may have finally arrived at the long-awaited moment. The prime minister and the leader of the Opposition have signed the National Crime Consensus document that commits both parties to the struggle against crime and corruption. The document is powerful and comprehensive. If the proposed measures are implemented with sufficient courage and resolve, we may look back at this moment as the turning point in Jamaica’s history, when the country finally reclaims its future.
Professor Anthony Clayton of The University of the West Indies has written many studies on crime, policing and security challenges in Jamaica; led a number of reviews of policing, correctional services and informal settlements; and served as the lead author of the 2014 National Security Policy and other government policies. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.