Editorial | In a state of anarchy | PM must sort out security team
If the trend of the first eight days of year is maintained, Jamaica will record more than 1,800 murders in 2018, or nine per cent more than the previous worst-ever year of 2009.
The figures for 2018 will represent an increase of around 210, or 13 per cent more murders than in 2017, when the number of homicides jumped 20 per cent. The homicide rate, that is the number of persons murdered for every 100,000 persons who live in Jamaica, will be close to 68, against 60 per 100,000 last year.
So, with a murder rate more than twice the level that, according to University of the West Indies (UWI) social anthropologist Herbert Gayle is characteristic of a country in civil war, Jamaica is lurching deeper in a state of anarchy. And rather than concentrating on their jobs, the persons who are responsible for arresting this crisis, National Security Minister Robert Montague and senior officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), are in an unseemly spat among themselves.
Given Jamaica's historically high levels of criminal violence, the job of national security minister is not an easy one. Nor is that of commissioner of police, especially having to preside of over a constabulary largely perceived to be inept, hopeless corrupt, and institutionally resistant to change.
Circumstances and personalities have made the jobs more difficult. Mr Montague is a bluff, action-oriented, folksy, hands-on, man-in-the-trenches kind of politician to whom intellectualism and the intricacies of policy are secondary. At least, that is the image he has cultivated. In the face of a rising murder rate, several of his public comments, an attempt to court the populist gallery, have rung trite.
The police chief, George Quallo, is the opposite. A grey man, his best-known assets are his born-again Christianity and the perception of being untainted by corruption. Mr Quallo never appeared to want the job and doesn't appear to have come to it with specific ideas for dealing with the ills of the police force or for fighting crime.
It is not clear what role Mr Montague played in Mr Quallo's selection, but the minister appears to have lost confidence in the police chief, whose senior officers have rallied around their boss in the face of what they see as Mr Montague's public humiliation of him.
The issues range Mr Quallo being forced last August to retreat his embrace of an unpopular internal review that repudiated the West Kingston's Commission of Enquiry's finding of misconduct by police officers, to Mr Montague this week publicly summoning the police chief to a meeting to explain himself after rejecting the commissioner's preliminary report into the New Year's Day blocking of the road to the Norman Manley Airport by partygoers, causing the delay and cancellation of airline flights.
The Police Officers' Association (POA), who also accused Mr Montague of interfering with the operations of the force - from which he is barred by law - and has claimed his style of communication via media is affecting the morale of the commissioner and senior officers as well as "distracting from the management of major crimes".
If Jamaica is to successful against rampant criminality, there must be some in charge, at the political and policy level, someone in whom everyone, including the police chief, can have confidence and trust, capable of clearly articulating and winning support credible policies. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has to decide if Mr Montague is that man.
The police commissioner has to be tough, competent and should come to the job with a clear strategic vision for the JCF. It is for Mr Quallo, despite what the declarations of the POA, to honestly decide within himself if he is that man. The Government must declare, too, whether he is their choice.