The extraordinary challenges of policing highly criminalized environments with well-armed gangs and gangsters should not be used as an excuse by Jamaica’s law enforcement for abuse and questionable misconduct, said the country’s National Integrity Action (NIA) executive director Dr. Trevor Munroe while in Toronto recently for the Black Action Defence Committee’s (BADC) 25th anniversary.
He said that a police officer has been shot at once a day on average for the past decade and a cop has lost his/her life to criminal elements every month on average for the same period.
Despite the dangers of policing in Jamaica, Dr. Munroe said officers have a responsibility to act lawfully if they expect to earn the community’s trust.
“For almost 150 years, Jamaicans at home to one degree or another, especially in the inner cities, have had too many experiences of police brutality and too many experiences of questionable police shootings,” said the former senator and Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions director. “Many of us at home, like you here, have had to take up that struggle to reduce police abuse and to ensure independent oversight of police authorities. In this regard, as I commend you for the gains you have made over the years in achieving some advances in police reform, I am happy to say to you that we at home, through advocacy, have also made some important gains.”
In 2007, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) anti-corruption branch was set up and three years later, the Independent Commission of Investigations was established.
“Truth be told, progress has been slow, but we (have) the oversight of the police and their conduct and behaviour in our inner cities,” Munroe, a Rhodes Scholar, said. “And when it comes to corruption, progress has also been made.”
Munroe said close to 50 police officers have been fired so far this year over corruption.
“As we say that the force needs to be cleaned up, let’s acknowledge that there are not many contexts in the world where police face as much danger in their everyday lives to protect us,” he said. “That is why just last year, Jamaica’s national security policy identified as a number one threat what it called a clear and present danger, transnational organized crime including trafficking in narcotics, weapons and ammunition, money laundering, cybercrime, gangs and, very importantly, corruption of elected and public officials.”
Munroe said crime and corruption in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean constitute primary reasons for economic stagnation.
“It’s the reason why almost four out of every 10 young people in our country cannot find a job or make a decent living, leading to almost 40 per cent unemployment,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why government revenues fall short because of white collar criminals – not inner-city criminals – engaging in tax evasion, thus depriving the state and the government of a greater capacity to feed school children, to equip clinics and to fix roads, thus contributing to us having to borrow too much and to carry a burden of debt far too high so that today we are once more in an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
“Putting it bluntly and being brutally frank, when a business person passes money to a politician or public servant to get a permit or to be granted approval for development projects, that constitutes an additional transaction tax. The community loses because the honest business person may neither be willing nor able to pay money to that politician and public servant. On top of that, the corrupt businessman, in return for campaign contributions, receives a tax waiver and the taxes which he doesn’t pay will be paid by you and me.”
Munroe said the NIA is committed to ensuring that a campaign finance regulation framework is instituted before year end that will make it less likely for politicians to benefit from illicit funding.
“Our political parties are not registered and they operate as private clubs exercising public power,” said Munroe. “Criminals can give money to political parties as they have done…Both political parties in Jamaica have committed to finance regulations but, as you know, commitment is one thing and delivery is another.”
Munroe also noted that the Jamaican government is drafting a bill to put before parliament that will lead to the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers.
“Those who, up until now have been untouchable, will now have to be concerned that their days are numbered,” he said. “We however need your help and the assistance of those at home to partner together to ensure that what is promised is actually delivered.”
NIA, which emerged out of the necessity to raise levels of national integrity and combat corruption in Jamaica, was launched in December 2011.
Since its inception, close to 250 public sector and 150 private sector professionals have been sensitized or trained on corruption issues and there has been public outreach and engagement with approximately 1,000 community members across the country.
“We felt then as we feel now that Jamaica needs a special non-governmental organization to lead this challenge,” said Munroe who is the only Transparency International member from the Caribbean. “While the global average for persons willing to get involved in organizations tackling corruption is 64 per cent, the average in Jamaica is 77 per cent who are willing and ready to get involved…We want to ensure there is one law for the man who stole ackee from the Governor General’s residence farm and was charged and sent to jail within three months and a former government minister who is accused of corruption of hundreds of thousands of dollars and five years later, that trial is still in process and only five to six of the 27 witnesses have been heard. That is not acceptable. There must be one law for the ackee stealer and government minister.”