The minister's jobSunday, July 25, 2021
I often hear political parties make promises to reduce crime and violence when they are trying to get elected. This type of platform antics is what helps to fuel the belief that the minister of national security (MNS) has responsibility for police operations.
This is, in fact, not so.
The MNS, in fact, has the responsibility for the creation of new policies or the adjustment of current ones. He can bring about new laws and amend existing ones.
He cannot do it with a wand, though. He has to engage the Parliament and convince them to allow for the creation of the noted laws – and if it is a split Parliament, God help him.
The hurdle he will face is that most needed changes are unconstitutional and will require constitutional change.
He can be useful to bring about change if the Parliament is imbalanced in his favour. If not, he can be useless.
I do not think Jamaicans realise the difficulties the minister can face. Almost nothing he does is going to be quick. Most seem to think that he is expected to lead charges, running up hills with a rifle in his hand. He has nothing to do with operations.
Despite this, great things have been accomplished by ministers of national security. Eli Matalon was key in the creation of the Gun Court. Dr Peter Phillips oversaw the partnership that ended Jamaica's cocaine kings. Dr Horace Chang introduced the parochial use of states of emergency. All great things.
So, to be fair, for an MNS to be successful he needs two terms. One to get the policies and laws changed and one to oversee the armed forces use of the new laws.
So looking at the current situation and what is needed to be changed, you will realise that every necessary change in law or policy will take years. Let us take them one at a time.
Firstly, the Gun Court. The sentencing regime needs to change. Twenty-year minimums need to be introduced if we are to expect drastic change in the gun culture. That will take at least two years.
Secondly, no bail for gun offences. To introduce this you would need to repeal the Bail Act. Bail as a right is enshrined in the constitution, so that is really a lengthy process. Three years, minimum.
Thirdly, with all these guys being remanded you will need a new jail. That is five years right there.
Fourthly, introduce a viable reserve for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Well this could be done if you use the rural police force, but will require changes to the Civil Service Act. That is about two years. If you are going to use the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) model that includes a mirror interlocking rank system then that is about five years.
You see, long sentencing and remand were the tools introduced by the Michael Manley Government to fight the gun culture that the politics of their era had created. But a lot has happened since Moses Hinds, the first person charged and placed before the Gun Court, had his day in 1974.
The end result of all these changes has been that we have forgotten the purpose of the court, that being to lose the persons in society in the penal system. We have forgotten what the cost is to not get rid of them and the misery caused by their reintroduction to society.
The essence of what I am saying is that changes in laws and policies, once required, are long processes. The old laws and policies that continue to exist whilst we wait for the grass to grow are the archaic ones that the police force have to use whilst change is awaited. This often takes entire terms of government.
Something simple like the ability of the police force to pay police personnel to work overtime, so that the badly needed occupation of inner cities can be implemented to protect the weak from the armed imbecile with his pants dropping off him, takes time.
Controlled societies do not have opposition, they do not really care about criticism from international human rights bodies, and they do not have to please voters. So they pass the laws they need to get the job done. That is just one of the positives of their world. The downside is freedom and the lack of it.
Bureaucracy and the many steps required for change is what makes it impossible for a Jamaican MNS to be as effective as he could be. However, it is those very things that protect our freedom. It stops the making of laws that prevent the knock on your door in the middle of the night and your son never being seen again.
The price of our freedom is paid for by the blood of our poor. Is it worth it? I guess it depends on where you stand. Maybe it is time to make the MNS a non-political post. And one that carries a 10-year contract.
Or maybe it is time to accept that change is slow and there is a cost and indeed a risk to speed it up.
Feedback: drjasonamckay@gmail. com
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