I am delighted to be here with you this evening to join in your weekly meeting.
It is one of those rare opportunities for me nowadays to fellowship with other persons who are involved in the business of service and not fear being targeted.
And when I say targeted, I don’t mean ambushed.
As a former President of the Jaycees in Jamaica and in the region, I am well aware of the demand for support from the various communities and the level of commitment that is needed to carry out what is being demanded of you.
I am fully aware of the various projects you have been involved with in East Kingston and Port Royal over the years, including the effort to turn the former Bournemouth Bath into the Combined Disabilities Association’s Resource Centre.
I am also happy to join you in celebrating Vocational Service Month, and participating in today’s presentation of the Vocational Service Award Peter Graham of Gas Products Limited for his service to the community.
These days we have to pay special tribute to those persons who continue to volunteer for service to the community because the trend today is more one of “I man for myself” rather being our brother’s keeper.
In fact, nowhere it this more clearly manifested that in terms of the current crime situation, in which we seem to have thrown away all the Godly principles and customs that have guided us so well in the past, and replaced them with a new culture of violence and immorality basically characterized by a very selfish attitude to life and a very strange lack of respect for humanity and life.
I believe that the Rotary Club of East Kingston and Port Royal has good reason to want some answers from me and I am quite willing to share as much as I can with you.
I am sure you are among those who accept that I have only been in office for about a month.
I can recall that the day I was introduced to my new office, I began receiving calls that I ought to do something about crime and the behaviour of the police, immediately.
Up to then, I didn’t even know the number of the straight line to my office.
Fortunately for me, I had visited the office on Friday, September 14, right after being sworn in and was shown around by the Permanent Secretary. So, at least, I knew what floor it was on.
But, within one week people were assessing my performance. It started with my first seven days in office. Now people have started assessing my performance after 30 days.
However, I can understand the public’s reaction. I believe that, probably, if I were in their shoes I might be thinking the same way, and I am sure that even some of you here today share some of those views.
The problem is that most of those views are informed by the wrong perceptions of myself and my ministry, and I wish to use this opportunity today to address some of these perceptions and misconceptions.
** One of the issues in which I have become embroiled, is that of the appointment of a new Commissioner of Police.
It has always been the job of the Police Services Commission to appoint a Commissioner of Police.
The Minister has no say, whatsoever, in these appointments.
In addition, prior to the change of Government, it was decided that the new Commissioner of Police would have been chosen after the post was advertised, both here and abroad.
Apparently, nobody took that seriously until the current Commissioner resigned.
The fact is that the new commissioner’s job has already been advertised and the Commission will make its decision known, eventually.
Whether the new commissioner comes from within the ranks or without the ranks, although I am the Minister, I will have to live with that. And whether he is from Jamaica or abroad, I will have to live with that, too.
The point, however, is that the police and the public will have to decide exactly what they want.
You can’t say on one hand, that you want the commissioner to be selected independent of politicians, yet when the Police Service Commission seeks to exercise its mandate, using whatever process they deem appropriate for the circumstance, there is an expectation of political intervention.
On the other hand, however, I sympathize with the position of some officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Their ambition is to reach the top and they feel that if the top job is not given to one of them it suggests that they are not up to scratch.
What I need to ensure is that the person who is selected is capable of managing the force with all its challenges and complexities.
I believe that we are all agreed that there is a need for modernizing the force, to improve its effectiveness, to build its relationship with the public and to remove from within the ranks those who tarnish the reputation of the force by their actions.
A Strategic Review of the Force was launched by my predecessor and I have instructed that this continue and the pace quickened. I am fully committed to implementing the recommendations and I would expect anyone selected to become Commissioner to play his or her role in the implementation.
**Another issue which has raised some public concern is that of police killings.
Some years ago, to avoid political influence on the activities of the security forces, it was decided that the Minister would have no say in how the police carry out their operations. The Police Commissioner would have the final say in all operations.
I believe that this policy has worked in the interest of the country, because it ensures against the use of the police for political purposes by the minister and it gives the public some reassurance that operations are in their interest and not in the interest of any party or person.
** Finally, I want to address the issue of the current crime situation.There have been complaints that we are not moving as fast as we could to arrest the crime situation, or that we are not as strong and emphatic as we should be.
Strong and emphatic language will not reduce crime and violence in Jamaica.
Clear, realistic policies and effective leadership will.
The Prime Minister prior to taking up that job appointed a task force, in anticipation of our becoming government, to look at the various reports and reviews of the crime situation which have become available over the years.
That Special Task Force on Crime (STFC), which included people like Colonel Trevor MacMillan, Dr. Henley Morgan and Mr. Peter John Thwaites, came up with some very sober and realistic findings and recommendations in a report titled ROAD MAP TO A SAFE AND SECURE JAMAICA.
We have agreed that Jamaica is faced with a very serious crisis of public safety and a very deep crisis of public confidence in the criminal justice system.
We had 6,300 murders reported between 2001 and 2005, 6,919 reported shootings during the same period and 4,324 rapes. And this situation has been worsening over the past two decades.
The crime rate now represents a serious challenge to the political, judicial and law enforcement leaderships in the country.
And the situation is not helped by the widespread corruption in the public and private sectors.
This requires urgency, focus and seriousness of purpose.
I believe that the public was convinced on September three that something had to be done about this, hence the decision to change course.
However, the high expectations seem to have led to the fantasy that we could create a miracle in thirty days.
The fact is that we cannot create a miracle in 30-60 days, but we expect to make a serious dent in the situation in our first 100 days in office.
A number of initiatives have been introduced, somewhat quietly, to seek to bring the matter under control as quickly as possible.
We have had several very successful operations in several communities and we have preempted a number of situations which could have exploded into serious intra-community violence.
The fact is that on most occasions when violence is pre-empted nobody gives the security forces the credit they deserve, and that is probably because the average citizen does not realize the crisis that has been averted.
But, we are not here to win acclaim for successes in our efforts.
My mandate is to bring crime and violence under control and I intend to remain focused on this objective and to do everything humanly possible to achieve it.
In the medium to long-term we intend to pursue a course of:
. controlling corruption within the security forces, and the entire public sector;
. dealing with the issue of garrisons and their contribution to crime;
. transforming the security forces to become more effective anti-crime organizations;
. introducing improvements to the justice system which can reassure the public that justice is available in the courts;
. and developing a programme of social intervention, to complement the work of the security forces.
My greatest concern is how we maintain this objective without the social and economic support needed to make it permanent.
It is so easy for people, especially young people, to be lured back into a life of crime ore prostitution and for communities to become faithful to “dons” who are willing to fill the social and economic gaps created by lack of public and private sector support.
We have been looking at a number of initiatives which can fill the vacuum that is left when these gangster benefactors are removed. For example, the previous government, with support from the British Government, had established the Community Security Initiative (CSI) which has been operating as the main avenue of direct government intervention in crime-ridden communities, as a follow-up to the anti-crime activities of the police force.
It was introduced to the Matthews Lane , Dunkirk, East Kingston and Spanish Town communities following the break-up of major gangs in these areas.
The aim is to seek to foster community development and empowerment. Surveys are done to identify potential earning skills and attempts are made at economic and academic development.
The utilities are brought in and an attempt is made to regularize the provision of water, light, garbage collection, etcetera to improve the lives of the people and the state of the community. We fully endorse that approach. But it is obvious that the CSI is far from enough. It needs a lot more funding, but can the budget afford to provide what is needed?
We intend to seek the cooperation of the private sector in programmes that can provide more substantial support for these communities, even by providing employment for some of these young people.
In addition, we have to look at the proposal from the Special Task Force on Crime to create a National Council for Community Transformation to co-ordinate efforts toward addressing some of the economic and social issues affecting these communities that are giving rise to crime.
In pursuit of this we will need to strengthen our capacity to meet our national obligations under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, because we believe that meeting these goals is essential to creating a permanent solution to crime and violence.
We have to look primarily at goals requiring a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction; making significant improvements in the lives of inner city people; and developing decent and productive employment for the young people.
It will be costly, but we have to find a way to finance it because it is too essential in the fight against crime to be ignored.
So, basically, I am saying that, in the short term, there has to be major improvement in the current crime situation. Jamaicans cannot continue to live with the level of violence and fear that we are now experiencing. It has to be addressed, immediately.
We are working around the clock with the JCF, the JDF and special units such as Kingfish, to deal with these problems.
We intend to increase the budgetary allocations for these organizations, over the next three years, in order to provide them with all the necessary equipment, systems and personnel they need in the short term.
But, at the same time, we recognize that a permanent solution, which is what we all want, will require much more than that.
We cannot continue with a policy of one step forward followed by two steps backward.
We need social and economic transformation in these communities to allow the people to recover from the deterioration over the last two decades and give them an opportunity to turn around their lives.
It needs moral leadership, especially from the church and that is why the Prime Minister has ensured that at the start of his tenure he gave prominence to his support for the churches.
It needs the involvement of voluntary organizations like the service clubs- Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis – in providing the role models, mentors, the guidance counselors and the other voluntary services which you offer.
Today, as I speak to you the members of the Rotary Club of Eastern Kingston and Port Royal, I challenge you to join us in this fight.
You represent communities that are among the most volatile in the Corporate Area.
Just recently we experienced some of the most brutal murders in the Rockfort area. There are other areas of the city just waiting to explode. Let us try and pre-empt the explosion by reaching out to these communities and saving them from the stranglehold of criminals.
I am delighted to be here with you this evening to join in your weekly meeting.