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JM | Nov 13, 2022

Don Wehby | Government alone cannot solve Jamaica’s issues

/ Our Today

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Government Senator Don Wehby.

The following is an excerpt from Senator Don Wehby’s contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday (November 11).

Jamaica has a rich culture, heritage and legacy as a country. I’m sure all my fellow senators will agree with me when I say that we feel a sense of pride when our black, green and gold flag is flown high.

When we see our Jamaican products lining supermarket shelves overseas, when we hear our reggae music playing on the air waves – we are all reminded of how much we love Jamaica and want what’s best for our country.

There is a lot that is right about Jamaica, but I cannot deny that we have had and continue to face many challenges.

MURDER RATE OVER 1,000 FOR MANY YEARS

I’ve been working with my current employer for 27 years and I have attended many meetings over that period with captains of industries, private sector leaders, prime ministers, and government ministers.

Except for a few years when the national debt was the number one item on the agenda at these meetings, crime was the number one item over those 27 years. For many years the murder rate has been well over 1000. I can say with confidence, that I know every parliamentarian on both sides wants to see a safer Jamaica where citizens can live in peace and enjoy our beautiful country. The question I ask myself, if there is consensus with the private sector, government, opposition and all well thinking Jamaicans, why can’t we see a significant reduction in the crime rate over the many years?

Jamaica’s homicide rate of 46 per 100,000 is the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To put things in context, the homicide rate is similar to that of a ‘civil war’. While I understand and respect the ruling of the courts regarding the SOEs, I still maintain that the SOE has its place as a strategic tool to fight crime. I believe the SOEs would have reduced the current spike in crime if they were still in place. I hear and respect the argument about protection of the rights of individuals. What about the rights of the over 1,000 persons who have been mercilessly murdered each year? What about their right to life?

I tried to answer my own question of why crime is always the number #1 item on the agenda for the last 27 years. I want to share my thoughts with you.

IF THE COUNTRY WAS A BUSINESS, IT WOULD HAVE GONE BANKRUPT

I believe there is a strong correlation between the high level of debt we have experienced over the many years and crime. Let me expound on why I say so. Let’s look back from 1991.

In FY 1991 the debt-to-GDP ratio peaked to 232 per cent of GDP. So, we were basically borrowing to repay our debt. If the country was a business, it would have gone bankrupt. We didn’t have any money to invest in education, fighting crime, providing better healthcare, housing for our people and developing the country’s infrastructure. We were on the verge of being a failed state.

The 90s is commonly referred to in the history books as the FINSAC era when interest rates were as high as 60 per cent. Jamaicans lost our entrepreneurial spirit and innovation to do business. Jamaicans have
worked too hard, public sector workers have made too many sacrifices for us to reverse the gains made to reduce our debt and improve our economic outlook.

Audley Shaw, government minister.

The journey of debt reduction started with former Minister of Finance; Audley Shaw who anchored the debt restructure, followed by Dr Peter Phillips who did an excellent job, and the baton has been passed to the Hon Nigel Clarke. Up to recently, Dr Phillips reminded Jamaica that fiscal prudence is extremely important to the future of the country.

Over the last decade with political determination and political unity in our economic policy, public debt has reduced from 145 per cent of GDP in FY 2012/2013 to 91.5 per cent in FY 2019/2020. I want to congratulate the Government, especially Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, on the management of the economy particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ve come out of the crisis better than most nations. The Government remains focused on building our Jamaica, a place of Peace, Opportunity,
and Prosperity.

Some of the indicators which show the economy is moving in the right direction are:

• Economic growth recorded for the first quarter of 2022 was 5.4 per cent. We have seen the recovery of sectors such as tourism which is projected to bring in over US$4 billion in revenues for 2022
• business confidence grew by 18.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2022.
• Consumer confidence was at 162.6 points in the third quarter, an increase of 4.2 percentage points over the second quarter of 2022.
• Unemployment rate fell to six per cent in April of this year the lowest rate in Jamaica’s history
• NIR- US$3.77 bn as at October 223

I’ve made this point about the reduction in debt here because we are moving in the right direction in terms of the economy. In other words, because we have less debt the Government can allocate more resources to spend on social services and the vexed issue of crime.

Crime

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson.

I want to thank Commissioner of Police, Major General Anderson, and Chief of Defence Antonette Wemyss Gorman and her predecessor Major Rocky Meade and all the members of the security forces.

They leave behind their families each day and put their lives at risk so we can feel safe and secure. Their job is not easy, and it’s often compounded by a lack of resources. There is a concern I have regarding the utilisation of resources for national security which Senator Bunting raised in this House last week. It was noted that only 17 per cent of the capital budget for national security has been spent this fiscal year. As you are aware, based on accounting procedures in government if you don’t use it you lose it.

With crime being the #1 problem in Jamaica this is unacceptable. Persons we put in charge must be held accountable. I am suggesting that the Minister of National Security and the Finance Minister form a special implementation committee to:

(1) determine why the capital budget is not being disbursed, (if it’s a timing issue),

(2) ensure the funds are disbursed by the end of the financial year, and

(3) ensure that going forward we have the right resources and expertise to execute on these investments.

As I said before, we have the fiscal space to invest more in our social sector, so we need to ensure the capital budget is fully utilised for the fiscal year.

There should be no excuse for it not being implemented.

Gordon House, the home of Jamaca’s Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament.

With the economy moving in the right direction and the debt-to-GDP ratio going down more funds will be available to spend on the social sector of which crime prevention is paramount. In addition to having the resources to solve the crime problem we need to have the right strategies, short, medium and long term to ensure resources are deployed in an effective way.

I would like to commend the Government for recognising and taking steps to revise legislation that will support the restoration of law and order in our society. The Bail Act, Firearms Act, Road Traffic Act, and amendments to the Criminal Administration (Suppression of Criminal Organizations)Act (otherwise known as the anti-gang legislation). I also support the recently announced Amnesty to get the illegal guns off the streets and look forward to the success of the initiative.

I have some thoughts on how we can improve the legislative framework for bolstering the response to crime.

We should consider and debate amending the Proceeds of Crime Act to allow for unexplained wealth orders. Cutting off the financial means of these criminals is crucial to tackling the financial aspect of crime.

From what I understand, these criminals’ operations are very structured, and they use technology to facilitate their operations locally and overseas, fuelling violence and the trade of guns and drugs. So, we
need the right resources to be able to respond effectively. I am therefore suggesting that we consider and debate amendments to the Telecommunications Act to improve law enforcement’s intelligence gathering capabilities. This would include Telecommunications providers expediting requests from law enforcement to provide customer and call data information and requiring them to retain the data for longer periods.

I know this might not be a popular question, but do we need more expertise in Jamaica to fight crime?

WE SHOULD ASK FOR MORE HELP

This is an international warfare with criminal gangs all over the world. Do we need to ask for more help from our longstanding partners, the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Canada or anywhere else?

Essentially what I am pointing out is that if we need help, we should ask for more help.

The long overdue Police Services Act is another piece of legislation aimed at transforming the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) into a modern effective and efficient police service. My understanding is this legislation will lay the foundation for the reform of the JCF towards community policing to stabilise communities gripped by crime, build social cohesion, and in doing so, form crime prevention partnerships. The Police Services Act has dropped from the legislative agenda and I would like to see the Bill re-tabled in Parliament as soon as possible. Whatever is holding us back from implementing this Act to support the transformation of the JCF, we have to find a way to overcome that challenge—resources, technical expertise, financing, whatever it is we must overcome the challenge.

Orlando Patterson

In answering the question of why we have such high levels of crime I also reviewed the research done by Orlando Patterson and Herbert Gayle and I agree with their findings that crime is a by-product of social
ills and lack of education.

With the improvements in the economy I noted earlier and the reduction in our debt burden we will find the fiscal space to address the root cause of crime. We know the Government alone cannot solve the social issues we face as a country; the private sector must get involved. I want to commend the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica which has embarked on an initiative called Project STAR. The largest ever privately led Social Transformation project in Jamaica focused on building communities through an ‘All of Society’ approach.

I believe the future of this country can and will be better with excellent financial management, and the improvement in the economy I mentioned earlier. We now have more to invest in our social services.

Allocations under the 22/23 budget

$93.1 bn for the health sector

$92.4 bn to national security

$65.1 bn for investment in infrastructure

$122 bn allocated to Education

$16.9 bn to the PATH Programme

70,000 new housing solutions by the end of the 2025/20265

I noted in particular the conclusion of the Throne Speech for 2022, given by His Excellency the Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen, where he said:

The Jamaica we all want, the Jamaica we deserve!

A Jamaica where we have equitable access to quality education and training.

A Jamaica where we can have access to timely and quality healthcare.

A Jamaica where our unique environmental and cultural assets are preserved.

A Jamaica where entrepreneurial and creative talents thrive.

A Jamaica where we are safe and secure.

And let me end by saying, God bless Jamaica, the greatest country in the world.

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