Sun | Nov 19, 2017

Mark Wignall | The streets still support ZOSO

Published:Sunday | September 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Civilians walk by military personnel on the ground in Mount Salem, St James, Jamaica’s first zone of special operations.

Two Fridays ago, as the nation held its collective breath, dignitaries, including the prime minister and the security chiefs, plus assorted PR add-ons, gathered in the banquet hall of Jamaica House to announce the first rollout of the zones of special operations.

Mount Salem was announced as the winner in the perverse lottery draw. "We will make Jamaica safe again," said the prime minister after stats on murders in the area were read to the nation. "Mount Salem chose itself," said the prime minister. With just one major hiccup.

The number of murders committed so far in 2017 was seven instead of the 54 that was announced. I am a firm believer in the notion that whenever highly trained, intelligent people like our security chiefs present statistics that are purely quantitative, it must be assumed that the info is double- and triple-checked. To present wrong info is, at that stage, outside of the realm of incompetence.

So I am forced to utilise the only other word that occurs to me as a more plausible reason for the gaffe: sabotage. Then after the operations were launched in Mount Salem, the nation was told that less than a third of the security personnel assigned for onsite operations actually showed up.

What best could describe that other than open mutiny? At the same time, as the Jamaica Labour Party administration was having the security forces on the ground in the community, the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) seemed to have been operating a countermeasure to the ZOSO in Mount Salem by first of all pointing out that the 2017 stats in murder in the community were way off, and second, activating a PNP hotline for residents to call to report any abuses they suffered.

How did the PNP have the correct numbers and not the Government? Should I assume a connection between the hierarchy and the PNP that is tied in to a word I have already used?

I would be foolish to criticise the PNP for opening up a hotline for reporting abuse, knowing how members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force tend to treat poor people when the eyes of the nation are otherwise occupied.

But somehow in that narrative is the tendency to believe that the PNP was invested in the failure of the ZOSO, especially as it could be used as a rallying cry to reunite a party that is quite fractious at this time as leadership concerns remain unsettled.

 

IS POWERFUL TOURISM LOBBY IN PLAY?

 

Whether or not Prime Minister Andrew Holness succeeds in making Jamaica safe again, choosing any community in the crime-ridden St James as the guinea pig would always be an easy ask. St James ranks first on the murder list of all parishes.

Clarendon, St Catherine and the Kingston Metropolitan Area were right up there, too. It seems to be that we cannot rule out the influence of the powerful tourism lobby in selecting Mount Salem as the first community. One, it is in St James, but safely away from proximity to the actual resort strip.

It must be remembered that at the beginning of the decade of the 2000s, it was the voice of a powerful player in the tourism lobby who complained publicly about the spate of murders and threatened to relocate his head office to foreign shores that brought about the formation of the infamous but euphemistically named Crime Management Unit led by crack crimefighter Reneto Adams.

Government listens to those who have the power to place them in office or take them out. It is political logic 101.

I am certain that the resorts employ many workers from Mount Salem and other troubled areas in and around Montego Bay. I am also certain that those very workers have related their personal woes to their bosses, and some of those stories would centre around workers paying regular extortion fees to armed thugs in their communities.

The wide support for ZOSO at street level is usually centred around any gathering of four or five people, and each one having a different idea about which area or community should be chosen.

"Mi can't understand why dem never choose di whole West Kingston or further east," said a car washer to me last Wednesday.

"I don't believe that this JLP Government has the stomach to have the security forces set up West Kingston as a ZOSO," I said. "The memories of May 2010 are still fresh in the minds of those in the top leadership of the JLP. Dem not going there."

There may have been serous jitters at the launch, but those versed in industrial engineering would know that there is a fix to every potential problem that could arise. Even the very basic ones that took place and caused the Government much embarrassment.

 

DEMOTIVATED JCF A REALITY

 

The very bright cop who told me months ago that he saw a career path in the JCF called me and told me that he had left.

"What!" I said. "What was it that brought on such a sudden change?" I asked.

"I felt like the job was driving me mad, so I simply ran away. I am now abroad working."

A friend of mine, an ex-policeman, recently related to me the situation surrounding a police station in a part of downtown Kingston. "The cops are on static duty while trying to keep down a gang war taking place between two communities. Remember now, it is static duties, so they must remain at their post at all times until they are relieved. And guess what? No one provides them with food. Something as basic as that.

"So at times they have to leave to go and buy food. These are things that the general public is unaware of," he said.

A cop I know also related to me another story which centred around the absence of basic amenities at certain stations and posts. "There is a new station or post, if you want to call it so. Way up towards Wareika Hill. I go up there to look for a squaddie, and believe me, it look as if not even sanitary conveniences they have there."

"What are you saying to me? Di man dem haffi go bush?' I asked.

"Dats di only conclusion I can draw," he said.

On Wednesday, I asked a senior policeman by WhatsApp if all the police personnel required were on the ground in Mount Salem. He responded with a few words. "Yes, they are."

I then sent another message. "What was the official excuse given by those cops who did not show up in the ground initially in Mount Salem?"

He has yet to respond.

My ex-policeman friend said, "Mark, I will bet you that they did not show up because of simple things like supplies of food and drink, and it is too embarrassing for the bosses to explain it because to do so they would be indicting themselves.

"As soon as police join the force, a whole new set is leaving. And then on top of that, the authorities have come up with this unworkable rule of threatening to lock up police if they leave without giving six months' notice. Is pure madness that.

"I have two friends who are now on leave and they have no plans to return. And a bet yu the JCF bosses can do nothing about it."

Jitters or gaffes or plain incompetence or just sabotage, the prime minister has staked his political future on the murder rate going down significantly. Offering cash for guns may have been a pipe dream, but trying something, even if it is not new, had to be part of this last move in a nation of desperate people.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.