The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) have been tasked with establishing special security operations around key infrastructure projects.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness who was making his contribution to the 2023-2024 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives on Thursday (March 16), said the aim was to ensure that major projects which will be undertaken are not hijacked by criminals seeking to illicitly benefit from public resources through extortion or holding up work schedules.
He said elements of this undertaking and the resulting impact on crime have been seen along the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project, particularly in the Bull Bay area.
“In the coming fiscal year, the Government will be undertaking several major infrastructural projects across the island. The National Security Council discussed this specific type of threat and we have tasked the JCF and MOCA to establish special security operations around these projects, to ensure that our major infrastructure projects are not hijacked by criminals seeking to illicitly benefit from public resources through extortion or holding up work schedules,” he said.
The prime minister said that, in addition to the social and public health challenge, crime and violence are now a systemic threat to the proper functioning of the State to enforce its laws, deliver justice, protect its borders, and secure its revenues.
“When criminals routinely seek to kill or intimidate witnesses, they weaken the ability of the justice system to convict them… When criminals deliberately seek to befriend and enlist the protection of police officers and public officials, they compromise the ability of the State to effectively enforce its laws,” he emphasised.
“When criminals seek to infiltrate our ports and airports, they compromise the ability of the Government to control our borders. When criminal gangs seek to extort public works, this is a direct and brazen attempt to use State resources to advance criminal enterprises.”
He maintained that the prevalence of criminal gangs organising violence against citizens and the State, in furtherance of their criminal enterprises, cannot be taken lightly.
Holness added that organised violence by gangs amounts to criminal terrorism.
He said the verdict in the recent anti-gang trial is a victory for Jamaica.
“I want to commend the JCF and their investigators, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and their prosecutors, who have put together the case; and I believe special mention must be made of the two main witnesses who made great personal sacrifices,” he said.
The prime minister emphasised that organised violence is a national emergency requiring enhanced preventative powers to disrupt the activities of the gangs, control the space in which they operate as well as the movement of their members, increase surveillance on them and cut off their source of funding, and divert their recruits.
“It is in this context that we have used limited and localised states of public emergency, to slow the build-up of gang terrorism and its devastating impact on communities and the undermining effect it has on the State,” Holness said.
“The SOEs work every time they are deployed, because they are targeted at those on whom strong intelligence has indicated their involvement in creating the threat to life and property on so extensive a scale in the community, that if the State does not act immediately, the threat will materialise and rapidly escalate,” he added.
He said the JCF does not only disrupt the violence of gangs through the SOEs, but every year the security forces interrupt at least 300 planned murders through its intelligence capabilities.
“The problem, however, is far greater than the resources and institutions that we have. But the bigger problem is the lack of political consensus around how to deal with it,” he argued.
“The SOEs, combined with our intelligence operations and the gang cases we continue to put before the courts, have helped to suppress the murder rate. However the root cause, organised violence from gangs, is always trying to push the murder rate up. It is a continuous struggle. But we are building the capacity to overcome the gangs in a sustainable way,” Holness said.