ZOSO and SoE fairness and 'favouritism'


Monday, October 22, 2018

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The Government has announced that some 20 communities have been identified to be named zones of special operations (ZOSO). This suggests that the Government wishes to utilise ZOSOs as a long-term crime-fighting strategy.

Firstly, the law stipulates that no more than two ZOSOs may be in existence at any given time. Secondly, the law contemplates that one of the purposes of a ZOSO is to promote social and economic development of the area. If this particular stipulation is taken seriously, when placed alongside the first, then each ZOSO should last for years. The first ZOSO, Mount Salem, has been in operation for over one year. Given the socio-economic characteristics of the communities, and the length of time it would take to achieve the outcomes related to “promoting social and economic development”, the provision of 60 days as the maximum, despite the provision for extension, is clearly short-sighted

The third reality which dictates that the establishment of 20 ZOSOs is a long-term strategy is the fact that there simply is not the manpower and other resources support them, even if Government were to contemplate amending the law to allow for more than two ZOSOs at a time.

Based on the declared intent regarding ZOSOs, it seems pellucid that ZOSOs and states of emergency (SoE) are the Government's principal crime-fighting tools. I have no issues with the use of ZOSOs as a crime-fighting measure, especially given one of stated objectives of the law namely promoting social and economic development, but on the face of it, ZOSOs appear to be a milder form of an SoE, carrying the provision of promoting social and economic development, but with the power to search without a warrant, etc.


ZOSO is hardly different from an SoE. In my opinion, the central purpose of a ZOSO should be the promotion of social and economic development, but it does not appear that this objective is being seen as the central purpose. Policing seems to be the central purpose, as the kinds of actions required to spur social and economic development in the two existing ZOSOs are not being undertaken on any significant scale.

If these ZOSOs are to promote social and economic development we need to see substantial resources being made available to:

a) train and kick-start young entrepreneurs and small businesses;

b) support the establishment of major manufacturing plants;

c) provide skills and discipline training for youngsters by the hundreds (major refurbishing work should by now have commenced at Montpelier in St James); and

d) radically revise the programmes being offered in the schools in the areas.

How special are some communities?

The establishment of a ZOSO is predicated on the containment of rampant criminal activity within a specified geographical area. We now know that there are about 20 communities in Jamaica that have the characteristic of being viewed by the police as qualifying as a ZOSO, but when Mt Salem was named as the first ZOSO it was not the most lawless community in Jamaica or St James.

Curiously, Mt Salem is a People's National Party (PNP) stronghold in a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)-held constituency and was less violent that the community of Salt Spring, which is a JLP stronghold in a JLP-held constituency. In this regard there appears to be some favouring of one community over the other, though the existence of special treatment would have been eclipsed by the subsequent establishment of the SoE in St James.

There appears to be somewhat similar favouritism in the establishment of the Denham Town ZOSO. While Denham Town is a JLP area, at the time of the establishment of the ZOSO Denham Town was described by the then police commissioner as “…(being) plagued with serious crimes, resulting in approximately 82 victims between six and 65 years old in 2017… result(ing) from the feud between the Tivoli Gardens gang and the Denham Town Coalition gang.”

The question I asked then and ask now is: Why was the ZOSO not extended to include Tivoli Gardens?

Specially treated citizens?

A few months ago Prime Minister Andrew Holness undertook to provide special support to the family of a little boy who had suffered a birth defect during his delivery at a public hospital. The mother had sued the State for negligence and it was reported that Holness gave instructions to Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte to settle the case expeditiously.

It is common knowledge that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of such cases in our country; so the immediate question is: Can and will the prime minister be able to show the same level of attention in all cases? The deeper question is: Is not the prime minister duty-bound to show the same level of care and attention to all?

A few weeks ago, a young pastor was shot and killed in his church. Reactions to the shooting were fast and voluminous on social and traditional media. Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang commented publicly on the matter as did other cabinet ministers. Mention was made of the matter in Parliament. I was concerned that so much attention was being given by the Government to this case when similar interest is not shown in the deaths of other citizens. Information has now emerged that the young pastor was a JLP activist, a former worker at a radio station, and a former worker in the St Andrew East Rural constituency, which is represented by Juliet Holness.

Moral leadership

Moral leadership is at the heart of the concern about how communities are selected for ZOSO, as well as how much and the kind of attention Government gives to the needs of citizens. Bernard Bass (1985) defines moral leaders as those who help followers to see the real conflict between competing values, the inconsistencies between espoused values and behaviour, and the need for realignments in values, changes in behaviour, and transformations of institutions. Moral leaders seek to ensure that in their decision-making they are guided by facts, that they take all relevant issues into account, and that they are fair to all concerned.

The famous Privy Council judge, Lord Diplock was enunciating principles of moral leadership in his dictum that “Public officials have a duty to be fair”. In the cases cited above, what we have is the problem of the Government seeming to be guided by considerations of favouring some communities and citizens over others. It gives rise to questions about its even-handedness.

Moral leadership calls for the courage to confront the disparity and the commitment to undertake a realignment of conduct so that how decisions are made, and the kinds of decisions made, are consistent with the values espoused. In this vein the prime minister needs to take steps to ensure that the actions of boards and agencies of the government are aligned to a governance philosophy of fairness.

Postscript: Commendable leadership

In my article entitled 'Stepping forward with PEP' I argued that the philosophy of the New Standards Curriculum is sound and that the Ministry of Education should move ahead with the implementation of the policy. I suggested, however, that to the extent that the implementation may be faced with obstacles, as many stakeholders have contended, the education minister should not see the criticisms and concerns as an attack and counter-attack, but insofar as the criticisms have merit the minister should “concede, commend, correct, and continue”.

Minister Reid has done just that. There is justifiable debate over whether the implementation schedule should be further adjusted. But there is no denying that the minister has listened, and for that he should be commended. If he did not listen he would be deserving of criticism. The fact that the minister has listened shows a level of pragmatism, care, and political maturity. Such behaviour is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or

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