20/20 vision for 2020

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I can see clearly now the rain is gone

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

It’s gonna be a bright (bright)

Bright (bright) sunshiny day

— Johnny Nash

A very eventful year is ending. The most pressing issue continues to be our crime and violence. At the start of 2019 we said the country must begin to turn the corner towards building the new Jamaica. While we have seen some slight movement in economic growth, the worsening crime problem is causing hopelessness to set in for many. This is not good, for a people without hope become desperate and dangerous.

Fear is the dominant emotion overtaking society. Crime is a primary cause. But we all must work to defeat it! Last year at around this time I questioned whether or not we had the will or desire to overcome this negative issue in our society. I remember reminding citizens and government leaders that desire is one of the first requirements for change.

Benjamin Foley, editor of Falling Inward, posits that: “It’s the desire to change, not the changes that lead to lasting success.” Disappointingly, we seem to be no nearer to solutions than when we began the year. Noteworthy is an observation by Horace Chang, minister of national security, that though millions have been spent, the social interventions intended to curb crime and violence to date have not worked.

This has been so because the types of social interventions used have to fit in a wider national transformation vision beyond the narrow view of a national security support perspective. That narrow perspective is what has made some of the social intervention efforts appear ineffective, especially when measured against visible crime-reduction outcomes. The interventions, by themselves, served a purpose. Programmes such as the Community Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) have touched many lives. The problem is that our social fabric is deteriorating faster than our social intervention programmes can prevent or repair it.

In addition, many of the initiatives just don’t have the outputs necessary to achieve long-term crime-prevention outcomes. I am very familiar with them all. They are not crime solutions as originally thought by the designers and implementers.

This is what some of us have been saying for years, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Minister Chang should be congratulated for being bold enough to recognise it and say it. He has opened a long-needed debate. However, what he and his Government have to be careful of is not reducing or withdrawing from the existing social interventions. What is needed is a redirection, not a removal of the current programmes.

PMI’s process

I agree with Minister Chang that those programmes of social intervention within the Ministry of National Security, with the exception of one or two, should not have been there in the first place. They would have been better placed and effected under the Social Development Commission (SDC) in community development. The only one that I believe has been rightly placed and serves a good crime-related purpose with great impact is the Peace Management Initiative (PMI).

The minister needs to be careful of the advice he is being given regarding the work of the PMI. It has been, to my knowledge, the only programme of Government and the Ministry of National Security that has had any direct impact on crime reduction and curtailing gangs. It is my considered opinion that it has been 100 times more effective than the police on these points.

It, however, has been under-resourced and should have been in a better working relationship with the police. Truth be told, it is the negative police approach in communities that has weakened the PMI’s effectiveness. I challenge anyone to bring evidence to the contrary. If PMI had not existed and had not been assisting to keep a lid on many volatile situations, the crime rate would easily be 30 per cent to 40 per cent higher. The police force, in its present form, cannot work in communities to contain gangs and reduce tensions that often escalate. The PMI is the only group making any significant contribution at this level.

Still, the PMI may need some adjustment and revision, but the system cannot do without it, as I read has been suggested recently. If I recall correctly, the PMI field personnel only get a stipend; it is pretty much voluntary work.

I have an intimate knowledge of inner-city and volatile communities. Based on my knowledge, if something like the PMI was part of a larger, coordinated, national crime prevention and reduction effort, with all the field personnel they need, directed with pinpoint focus, a serious long-term dent would be made on crime and gangs.

A major difference between the police and the PMI is that the police go in a community to find who committed a crime. PMI personnel, on the other hand, usually know who is likely to commit the crime and the conditions leading to it. In general, one works proactively and the other works reactively.


Determining the way

As we close an old year and look to a new one, I contend that overcoming crime is not as difficult as appears. If the political will is present, if we will engage the right initiatives, and if we redirect the existing funds in a collaborative way under able leadership, we will see results. No new funds are needed. What’s needed is a new direction and a new vision. The same minds doing the same thing, in the same way, cannot by themselves bring the new vision and direction needed for change.

Crime reduction at this stage cannot continue to be separated from an overall transformational mindset change and social justice agenda. The prime minister, minister of national security, and the Government should consider, as posited before in this column, the establishment of a small team of people with a passion for national transformation to lead the charge. This ought to be an imperative for 2020, or we will continue to circle the mountain.

The country needs 20/20 vision for 2020. Singer Radcliffe John had a song in the 2018 festival song contest with the words: “The kind of Jamaica we have is not the kind of Jamaica we want, and the kind of Jamaica we want is not the kind of Jamaica we have.”

What kind of Jamaica do we want? Together we need to settle the framework and key areas of change needed to shape the new Jamaica. It’s referenced in our Vision 2030 Jamaica national development plan, and we have been talking about it a lot. However, the vision needs to be lifted off the pages and given life to inspire and motivate our people. It must be brought together in a succinct way to capture the imagination and participation of our citizens. Would that give the average citizen a sense that the new Jamaica is in view? How could we quickly get consensus around what the new Jamaica should look like and the priorities to achieve it?

Can we get our citizens to participate in the process of sharing their ideas and priority areas? Citizens should be polled for their ideas and priorities. But who would commission and pay for such an endeavour? Perhaps this is a task on which the Church and the private sector could collaborate?

We need consensus on what the priorities would be in the new Jamaica. It would provide an opportunity to mature our democracy.

The year 2020 is lining up to be an election year. The nation would go to the polls with a clear direction on the future. Then electioneering would raise the bar from the usual gutter politics to be issues-based. Seeking to get voters to decide on which party and its leader at this time can best guide a process to build the new Jamaica. Wishful thinking? Yes, I know, but it’s the kind of thinking we all should embrace.

So for 2020, our vision must become crystal clear. Our priorities must be determined and shared. As well, our destructive issues have to be viewed differently and addressed differently for 2020.

Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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