What matters more, what we do or what we don’t do? Crime-fighting in Jamaica

As there is more than one side to a story, so there is more than one reason for a problem, and more than one solution. So, no answers provided, today. How much of Jamaica’s problems rest with the absence of things against the presence of things? Having asked that, as many people who read this may have viewpoints, and therein lies many a problem with fixing what we perceive is wrong with society: any and everyone could be right, and each of us does not have to agree with the analyses of others or their proposals. When things change in society it’s because of a critical mass that agree on where to go and how to get there. So, in that sense, the persistence of problems signals the absence of agreement on how to address them.

Today’s Gleaner has a editorial about ways to address Jamaica’s seemingly untouchable violent crime problems, and points to the remarkable turnaround in New York City (NYC), where the level of murders has returned to the level of the 1950s, with about 3 murders per 100,000 people (from around 30 in the 1990s) against Jamaica’s startling 59. The editorial touches a few raw nerves concerning Jamaica’s police force, compared to that of NYC (my emphases):

They targeted hotspots where murders, robberies and burglaries most often took place and went after the known and suspected criminals, who were sometimes picked up initially for small crimes. The police was substantially expanded, giving it the flexibility to do its tasks, without affecting its general policing functions.

Jamaica’s police force will probably insist that its approach is consistent with the New York City model – and may well be. It is not our sense, however, that it is done with the same energy and consistency that delivered success in New York City. And important for Jamaica, neither is the JCF open to the level of transparency and accountability that elicits the kind of society trust that would contribute to its effectiveness.

But, transforming Jamaica’s police force from an organisation with a reputation for corruption and ineptitude to an organisation that is professional, efficient, and accountable, demands new approaches to leadership. This must start with the top political leader, who apprehends that crime poses an existential threat to democracy, a civilised way of life, and the anarchy now imposed by criminals.’

If this assessment is correct, it begs many questions, such as why the police force would be anything but energetic or consistent in its task? But, why has the force been allowed to continue with such a damaging lack of transparency and accountability?

Trash on a bench in Nassau

Not reducing or resolving crimes is not that different from problems with garbage. Those who commit the acts know they can get away easily. Those assigned to deal with it, don’t, for reasons acceptable or not. The persistent presence tells us that no one wants to address the problems.

As with things seen from an economics approach, the questions can be boiled down to who gains and loses from these failings? How much of the transfer of gains and losses are needed to make matters better? That’s the essence of the presence-absence dilemma.

To fix an imbalance does not require that parity be achieved or that one side has to win everything; it means the sides have to be satisfied with the prospective outcomes.

I’ve resolved in my mind why politicians may not want to see a reduction in crime, and it’s based on a cynical assessment of the political structure in place in Jamaica, and its system of rewards and spoils. But, I have not found a good argument for why the police force would want to preside over such a situation. Any ideas?

Facing challenges: CaPRI goes out of the box to explain Budget 2017-18

I was in the pleasant company, over dinner midweek, of a varied groups of mainly Jamaicans, both old and young (my daughter was there), and some living locally and some living mainly abroad. We got into talking about ‘having it’ and what that meant and if it had been achieved. I said I ‘had it all’ and went on to explain that it was partly a question of money that I had accumulated during my life–though this was by no means mega millions–but did have the benefit of not really having to think about a budget every day, something that I had to do for many years. That’s not to say that I am not frugal: I am ‘mean’ like star apple! It also goes to the nature of personal contentment, and over time, I have tried to stop striving. It helps that I retired on a good pension. My wife still has a paid job and between the two of us our daily needs are well covered, financially. But, I get contentment from being able to use my time to satisfy my needs, and most of those are simple: Can I go walking when I want? Can I travel if I want? Is my life free of deadline? Can I say no to requests? Can I choose to help when I want to? And so on. I prize my liberty and am loath to give it up. For that reason, I am leery of nice-sounding attempts to get me to ‘do things’. Again, don’t get me wrong. I love to volunteer, but that means I decide, not someone else, when and where I send my energies, because I want to give fully when I give. Done!

I also mentioned that, for me, the greatest challenge in life now is to help people do things that they say the cannot. For some people that’s a simple nudge or helping hand to get started with something, often a clearly expressed desire that somehow has stalled. For others, it means breaking down a many-layered wall of resistance that has been built over time and reinforced, often by things that are not that rational–so fear has taken hold.

Simple example: the friend who hosted the dinner wanted to get back into golf. She had played a little, with lessons, etc, but an injury set her back badly. Coming back was both a physical and mental problem because the fear of a flare-up of the injury was there and the origin of the injury had deeper health risks. So, I offered to get her started again, gently, by having a session with a few clubs in my back yard. She did great and we spent about 90 minutes swinging gently. As I coach, I explained that I always like to end a session on a positive note, so when she took a good swing, connected well, and the ball pinged off one of the avocado pears on the tree in front of her, I said “Time to stop!” However, some of her previous health issues recurred and she’s not come back. But, she’s promised to do so, and needs to upgrade her equipment to remove their state of ‘disrepair’ as a cause of not resuming. Watch this space!

Another example is a high schooler who swims for the same club as my daughter who is ‘learning’ French. I put him under pressure by insisting on speaking French whenever we meet. My basic point is that he needs to free his vocal chords and get French words flowing naturally, without concern about correctness–that latter part we can fix. In other words, he needs to be like a toddler learning and babbling and not necessarily being coherent. It’s working, to a degree, and he’s less intimidated by the process now, but is still thinking too much. I speak at normal speed, first. Then, if he’s struggling, I slow it down to help him hear the words better as separate sets of sounds; fluent speakers elide a lot of words, so ‘la plume de ma tante’ can sound like ‘laplumdemataunt’ and it’s not obvious what are the separate words.

But, a bigger challenge is getting people to understand basic things about the world they live in. I am not a paid teacher, but I am someone who has often been a giver of instructions.

One of the huge challenges is just a language barrier–like with the French student. So, many people do not have the vocabulary for subjects, let alone the ability to understand what the words could mean. So, many attempts at teaching pass from teacher above head of student. In the class room that happens often at the start of a topic, but gets less as the topic is explored. However, in life, that lack of understanding can be near permanent. Add to that the fact that we do not speak alike. That is a huge problem in places like Jamaica, where the language of many ordinary people is not the language of many of those with so-called ‘high levels of knowledge’. People rale about Patois not being a language because one cannot automatically discuss all topics in that ‘tongue’. But, for things like a lot of economics, it can be done.

So, I was fascinated to see last night how an attempt to bring such knowledge out of the dark realm of ‘mystery’ into the light would work. Our national budget is about what we try to do with what we have (a variation on ‘having it’) and shifting around the resources is one of our big challenges, which honestly we often don’t do that well.

CaPRIThe Caribbean Policy Research Institute, put on a public forum, ‘Money Talks’ What does the new budget really tell you? in the open air of Mandela Park, in the heart of Kingston, Half Way Tree (HWT), at 6pm, plumb in the middle of evening rush hour. The topic was the recent Budget, and what it meant for the nation. Heady stuff. Well, no surprise, HWT was its usual hopping self, with taxis fighting to grab people and space, and street vendors trying to deny space and take people’s money, all at the same time and mostly in the same space. Let’s call that the hustle and bustle of Kingston. In the midst of that was a set up for the live event. In typical Jamaican fashion, the event was being animated by music. Nice vibes.

The event began a little late, but mainly because the MC wanted people to come closer, as ‘they do in church’. But, it was a forlorn attempt: it’s a thoroughfare and if people are reluctant to move from the outer edges by the walls, so be it–the need was for listening, not closeness 🙂

If this could be any prettier…
The event got underway with some pleasant words from a European Union official, as the EU is a major funder for CaPRI. He was followed by the main presenter, Dr. Damien King, was is a co-director and also head of the department of economics at UWI, Mona. One of Damien’s great traits is that he speaks clearly about economics and uses terms that are usually easy to grasp. So, he began talking about esoteric things such as the debt/GDP ratio, but had it illustration as a large mountain of money, and explained that its being 147% in 2012 meant that every Jamaican needed to work for no pay for a year and a half. Clear as a bell! So, it went on as he covered the broad set of measures of the budget, which I wont repeat here. The crowd, about 70 people seated and others around the edges, was absorbed and attentive. He simplified things and made some clear statements about the important matter of how does the budget affect each of us–a matter of personal circumstances and lifestyle.

Nice, simple graphics: a picture says a 1000 words
So, Dr. King has grappled with the challenge of making the budget more accessible to the public.

Now, getting the eyes and ears of fewer than a hundred people is obviously not the same as getting that attention from tens of thousands or even a million or more, but it’s a start, especially if everyone reaches one more, and like the multiplier in economics, gets the word spread by word of mouth.

So, I applaud CaPRI for this venture and hope that others in the domain of public policy see the need to get out from the contented position of ‘doing it the old way’ to doing it a way that is effective. I also like that it fits with my recent suggestion on this blog of a need for a non-partisan debate on the budget–it’s too important to leave to baying politicians. The CaPRI team did well to give people many of the building blocks to understand what the budget means overall, and to each of us, personally.

One of the ways that public policy is being better explained is through the use of social media, and I also applaud the Government and in part the Opposition for grasping this and using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to get out messages, but there’s a place still for live, in your face interaction, I must admit. Let’s hope to see more things like this. Some will see the similarity with ‘TED talks’ and if that helps then so be it. Take this approach to the clubs, to the beach, to the National Stadium…to the world!

JUTC and road rage in Jamaica

Let me declare that I started my working life as a transport economist, working alongside the National Bus Company in the UK.

I need to get a certain frustration out of my system. I really do not like what the Jamaican Urban Transport Corporation (JUTC) is doing. This public bus company is effectively holding other motorists to ransom. Let me explain. Last November, JUTC was given permission, for a three-month trial, to have a lane of Mandela Highway (a major four-lane thoroughfare running east-west, to the west of Kingston) dedicated to its buses. Other bus operators were not allowed to use this ‘bus lane’ (more correctly called ‘JUTC lane’, therefore). At the time, many motorists were angry and upset. However, little regard was given to their protests, and the ‘trial period’ was extended for three more months, from February through April 2014. Authorization was given by the Ministry of Transport Works and Housing.

The management of JUTC was ecstatic about this trial. Its Managing Director, Colin Campbell stated the following:

  • “The JUTC is pleased to report that the temporary JUTC Bus Lane has been a success. It is of note that Spanish Town has now been ranked the highest revenue earner of the three depots.”
  • With the introduction of the bus lane on November 1, 2013, the JUTC transported 718,610 passengers compared with 686, 483 in October 2013.
  • The passenger load dropped in December because of the school break but it did not affect revenue intake which showed an improvement over November.
  • JUTC projected that 747,000 passengers will be moved in January 2014.
  • Revenue earned during the three-month trial period of the Mandela Highway Bus Lane showed an increase of J$1 million in November over October, $1 million in December over November and is projected to show an increase also of approximately $1 million in January 2014 over the previous month.
  • The ease of traffic congestion created by the bus lane also saw the JUTC saving on fuel consumption by five percent.

These are all wonderful developments for JUTC, which like many public bus companies worldwide, was struggling to get into and stay in the black.

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The victors: JUTC buses running freely, without congestion

To accommodate the bus lane, the westbound dual carriageway has been converted to two-way traffic from Caymanas Bay to Plantation Heights between 6:00 am and 8:00 am on weekdays.

Kingston already has some bus lanes, notably on the same east-west corridor, closer to the city along Washington Boulevard.

JUTC gets support from the public purse. Now, it is getting support in the form of free space for its operations.

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The vanquished: motorists and passengers heading east, into Kingston, and those heading west, out of Kingston

However, its self-congratulatory back-slapping misses some very salient facts. All of its success from the trial has come at the expense of other road users.

Those in cars or minibuses, heading east into Kingston are still in congested traffic. Logically, private minibuses could have access to the special lanes, and ease the journey of many passengers. Few would argue that the car drivers be given the same privileges–although in many places, if private cars are carrying 2 or more passengers, they get some privileged access to roads.

Those heading west out of Kingston–normally an easy journey against the prevailing flow of traffic–are now in congestion during much of the ‘two -hour’ window of the bus lane.

JUTC’s savings in petrol consumption is being offset by additional consumption by other motorists, especially those heading west.

I would have been very impressed if JUTC’s MD had added these points into his definition of ‘success’. Better still, a full cost-benefit analysis of the trial should have been made and presented to the public.

But, the scheme has some other pernicious aspects. I don’t usually drive on the stretch of road, but have had to over recent weeks, and usually between 6.30-8am. Here’s what I have noticed.

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Ending of a day’s lane restrictions: police staff vehicle at around 8.15am, February 27

The lane restrictions do not end at 8am. In fact, they tend to stay in place until around 8.15. Not much you may say. However, that extra period offers JUTC some more free time and space. It also extends the congestion for those headed west. The lane restriction is extended to allow for the dismantling of the restriction–removing cones, picking up personnel and police who are there to ensure it works smoothly.

Why does this scheme operate this way? Apparently, because government agencies can exert such power to do what they want, despite protests and inconvenience to other citizens.

Whether the rest of the motorists are national tax payers, or payers of road licence fees, or fare-paying passengers, or payers of taxi operator licences, they have some rights and say in the matter. They should not be disregarded.

Clearly, JUTC does not want to help its competition. However, the Ministry should be looking at the larger picture and the total ‘costs’ and ‘benefits’. The Minister is a very good economist, and he should understand these things.

Let me be an optimist and think that the Minister and the MD of JUTC will at least reflect on the other side of the ‘balance sheet’ of this trial, and at least stop crowing about its success if only looking at benefits to JUTC. Let me also hope that if the trial were to extended further or even put into permanent operation, consideration be given to letting private bus operators use the lanes (if carrying passengers).

Let me not be cynical or dismissive and think that the public agencies will not give a hoot. However, if they take that approach, perhaps other road users will have to hoot, too. Blaring horns could be a very stirring rallying sound for those who are not being represented by those whom they chose as representatives and have forgotten what public service really means.

Bully beef: heavy-handedness, Jamaican-style

The past few days have brought up instances of something that seems common when dealing with social problems in Jamaica. Let’s call it the ‘big stick’ approach. Whatever the transgression, the most extreme solution gets preference.

I addressed the way that illegal street vendors were treated–their stalls were broken down.

Yesterday, I noted a recurrent discussion, about lateness at school; it surfaced some months ago with some schools in Kingston. Common solution: lock out the students. The National Parent-Teachers’ Association of Jamaica takes issue with this practice. Education Minister, Rev. Ronald Thwaites, has also called for schools to stop locking out students. Why cannot it be made mandatory that schools not do this? CamperdownB20130916NG

What do the schools expect when children are then left to fend for themselves for the duration of the school day? Let’s think. They get up to…mischief. (A flurry of sex videos made people shudder when seeing some of the mischief—made easier when kids are locked out of school.) They become prey to others who need some young bodies for tasks (these need not all be bad, but we know that a lot of sinister things can be done). They may not be reachable by their parents (not everyone has a cell phone): normally, issues at school can be addressed by trying to contact parents; parents can raise issues with schools that affect their children. Educational opportunity is lost.

Travel is not simple in Jamaica, and it’s hard for children, who do not have special transport to/from school. They generate lower fares and can often be left behind by some public transporters in favour of adult passengers. Children do not have the means to control all of their movements. I just met some parents bringing children to school late; in every case, it was the parents’ fault. Should children suffer for the fault of their adult caregivers?

Other than locking students out, does it take a rocket scientist to come up with other solutions that would still provide a ‘safe environment’ and ensure that chances to learn are not lost completely?

Is it too difficult to let late students enter late, join their next class, record the lateness on their official school record, and let that count against the student in final assessments? Any mitigating circumstances can be noted, and need to be attested by a 3rd party, but would not expunge the late record. Admittedly, students who are habitually late tend to have other academic negatives on their record and this may compound that, but it can be part of a ‘warning system’ about students’ vulnerabilities. Yes, it will take time and people to address the problems, and parents, teachers and students will need to talk about what is going wrong.

If I arrive late for a doctor’s appointment, would it be reasonable to lock me out for the day? If the doctor arrives late for an appointment, should he/she be locked out and not be able to perform duties?

Yes, timeliness in important in our society. However, the cost of it should be proportionate to what is being lost by lateness. If I’m late for a flight, I miss it. I can try to get the next flight, and that may be anything from a few hours to a few days. It’s costly to change tickets and costly in terms of what I lose by being late. I will try not to be late, but sometimes I cannot control the flow of events.

But, guess, what? Just slamming the door and turning people away is easy. Lazy, did you say?

Note, too, that this is another instance of how adults want to treat children in a less tolerant way than they would treat other adults. Are teachers who are late for school also locked out? Do employers routinely lock out employees who are late for work? Replace them, maybe, in time; sanction them in some other way, too, is the norm.

Discipline is learning to do the right thing without being told. It is not about being punished.

Do as I say not as I do: how Jamaica suffers from lack of stick-to-it-ness

Jamaica doesn’t do ‘law and order’ too well. I wrote yesterday about the heavy handed approach of Kingston’s municipal government to roadside vendors. My reaction was to a brutal response to law-breaking, not condoning law-breaking. KSAC said it had tried over several years to get vendors to move and it had not work. That does not justify breaking up the people’s means of a livelihood; other options exist.

We know that law-breaking has a negative effect on some of those who experience it. Yesterday, we heard about reports that a jet ski killed a tourist swimming in Negril. Last fall, the Ministry of Tourism imposed a short-term ban on importing jet skis, after a series of incidents on the north coast.SONY DSC The Minister talked about a sector “rife with indiscipline”. The government also stated it would impose a “Clamp down on all illegal commercial operators of Jet Skis in all areas.” This was the government approach–a clampdown…after years of lax enforcement. For a few weeks, we read reports of jet skis being seized. Announced…but apparently NOT ENFORCED is part of the mantra of Jamaican life.

Therein, lies the root of many of Jamaica’s problems: we are not accustomed to real and consistent enforcement. People, therefore, don’t expect to be penalized for long, if at all, for not abiding by rules or laws.

That said, we see plenty of evidence that Jamaicans will follow rules. For all the carnage on Jamaican roads, we usually see drivers sticking to some basic laws. They stop at red lights. I am amazed that bus lanes in Kingston remain free of cars almost all the time–I’ve no idea what the restrictions are because there are no signs to show that, only the road markings. But, dutifully, drivers avoid the bus lanes, even on Sundays and late at night, when traffic is very light. It cannot be the risk of being caught that is working: there are no surveillance cameras, or police posted along the way. Jamaicans get it!

But–to flog a dead horse–Jamaicans don’t get it in other simple road uses. Yesterday, I watched a man on a high-powered motorbike speeding up the hills with a young boy (about 7 years old) clinging on as a passenger. Neither wore a helmet.

So, a major problem that policy makers need to address is why and how the disconnection works between laws being in place and people abiding by them.

Initial reports indicate that the operator of the jet ski (not identified) fled the scene after the swimmer was struck, and we await a full police report. Lots of valid questions will be asked: Why swimmers are not in areas segregated from motorized water crafts? The envrionmental arguments will come out again about the oil discharge. The topic of regulating the sector will be aired, again. People will wonder what legal actions may follow this latest incident. Job opportunities will again be discussed. And so on.

We know that initial reactions will involve trying to control damage to the image of tourism in Jamaica. But, can we be confident about meaningful action that fits the fine words that have been uttered? History tells us no.

Jamaican law makers often confuse utterance with governance and act as if it’s enough to say that something will be done, rather than ensuring that things are done. Sooncomeism, again?

Teach the children well?

A firestorm has erupted in Jamaica this week over the relationship between schools and crime. Let’s put it simply. A study found a correlation between schools attended and the placement of persons in prisons. The conclusion that has been focused on is that remedial measures need to be taken at certain schools to prevent them from being the ‘source’ of criminals.

Many people understand that correlation is not causation. I grow tomatoes in a pot and they grow well. If I get better pots that does not give me better tomatoes. The reasons (causes) for (of) good growth are elements like soil, water, sun, seed quality, and other relevant factors, not the pots.

The discussion going on reminds me of a joke about a man who used to drink fortified spirits a lot. He tried rum and water; got drunk. He decided to try gin and water; he still got drunk. He moved to whisky and water; drunk again. Lastly, he tried vodka and water; blind drunk, as a skunk. He decided he’d better stop drinking water. Makes sense, right? It was the only common thing. However, we know or understand that it’s the alcohol that is working to distort the man’s behaviour, not the water.

Social deviance is complicated to understand. Most people would not put schools as the causes of bad behaviour, even though the environment in some schools may well support bad behaviour. The people working in schools are usually trying hard to ensure that behaviour is good, if only for their own survival and sanity. In what way would it serve teachers and schools administrators to ‘produce’ deviants and criminals? Alright, in a Dickensian setting, we can think of a ‘school for scoundrels’, but Fagin was not a school teacher in the normal sense.

I heard the Minister of Education, Reverend Thwaites, discussing during a post-Cabinet briefing yesterday, the report and reactions to it. He seemed to have no regard for those who concerns about the implicit absurdity of a causal link between schools and crime–above all. I stress that last part because the government’s actions only make sense if they believe that causal link.

Some, like me, would think that the socio-economic environment from which the persons came would and should be a major place to see causes. Likewise, their family or community backgrounds. If you live and breathe crime at home, what school can do to counter may be very little. Isn’t that why people talk about ‘overachieving’ students? They have done well at school despite a host of adverse non-scholastic influences. That’s why the young man who got a Rhodes Scholarship, after graduating from Vauxhall High School (one of the schools highlighted in the report in question), received a lot of attention. It’s not that any school may not be able to educate someone well. Some schools have a hard time doing the job of education because of things not to do with the school and its teachers. 

We also should not forget what the Jamaican educational system supports by having a filtering system for secondary schools. In fact, the study might have led to a better conclusion if Jamaica did not filter. Instead, children with low academic scores are pushed away from so-called ‘better’ schools. Without a group of consultants, we should be able to hypotesize about the results that systems like that would produce. If I keep feeding one person poor nutrition and another good nutrition, how would I expect them to grow?

In this discussion, I think the print media has played a very shoddy role. It was irresponsible for the Gleaner to run a story headlined ‘Prison schools’. It used terms such as ‘churning out’ or ‘produced the most inmates’. Terms like that suggest a converyor belt process, like making sausages. The sample data do not support such conclusions. To me, the press portrayal was so wrong that I was surprised to not see a retraction or apology.

I have no problem identifying (as Educate Jamaica does) secondary schools for underperformance in terms of what is produced in terms of educated individuals, something that should be at the core of their existence (or mandate). But, I would also want to understand well what the schools were having to work with in terms of ‘inputs’ (primary school students). A lot of shaping has already happened by the time children move from primary to secondary schools. To the extent that children end up badly educated, we know that our societies will give them fewer chances to succeed. They are not well equipped to compete for jobs. Hence, they are more likely to struggle to rely on ‘regular’ work to make a living. If we had a society that somehow guaranteed everyone a ‘living wage’, home and good health, many people would not feel pressured in finding ways to get on with life. (A few countries have tried something along those lines.)

But, I am not prepared to saddle schools to carry all the ills I see in my society. More so, when the schools are funded by public resources, because they may well be suffering and reflecting the financial choices imposed on a country, to the detriment of other objectives.

We may find that almost all prison inmates were born in public hospitals. Should we start remedying public hospitals because of the high incidence of criminals that are associated with them?

Front page news: Caribbean crime will be the death of us

Just a few hours ago, we were a year away. Today, hope starts anew with the first day of a new year. It’s an illusion that things are new, but let’s go with it.

Last night, as we were driving home, the radio was pumping a local song “Church out. Crab crawling.” Simply put, the need to focus on the serious matter of religious worship had to be cut short because it was time to feed. I took that as metaphor for many things in  the Caribbean region. We are often ready to drop dealing with serious issues for something fun. Crime is one such issue that may fall into that category.

The Bahamas, where I am now, is trailing by many hundred in the raw number of murders, but are on a trend that is truly frightening, leading (if that’s really the right verb) the region in murders per head of population. Last week–in the midst of Christmas–a horrible drive-by shooting occurred in a community named Fox Hill; four people were murdered. The country is appalled. The Prime Minister, Perry Christie, hastily called a cabinet meeting, after which he issued a statement with a ‘20 point plan‘ to tackle violent crime. It may be a good basis to deal with the problem, though I have my doubts.

My concern here, and in Jamaica–where the level of murders in above 1,000 a year–is that the only real measures that can address crime are broad changes in how our societies  work. More people involved in crime have to be convinced that killing, robbing, and terrorising their fellow citizens is insane. For people who live outside our geographical area it may be hard to understand what it’s like to be in fear of attack, not from foreign invaders, but by people around you. Most people in our islands have no understanding of how it is that mostly young men can be hellbent on taking each others’ live and the lives of those who make up the whole community. In Jamaica, reports show that nurses and other caregivers have now become targets for robberies and violence. Imagine, seeking to hurt and attack people who could be the very ones to help save the lives of the attacker. My mind cannot fathom it.

That sense of inability to understand is driving many to grasp for solutions that sound fine in terms of appearing to deal with the problem in a brutal way. The death penalty is one measure for which Bahamians are clamoring. People may accept that such a measure is not a complete deterrent, but it surely metes out punishment. For many people, that addresses many issues. “You kill our people? We are going to kill you,” satisfies many consciences. It’s in the eye for an eye mould.

If asked, many would condone the ‘extra judicial’ killing by police ‘in the line of their duties’. They want to be rid of those who are frightening everyone and perhaps likely to break in, maim, rob and kill.

The social solution is, of course, slow to resolve the problem. Even if hanging, or another death penalty is introduced, the society has to stem the processes that produce young people who see a future based on killing their neighbours. Where we have a major problem is that alternatives for young people are scant. In a society that has promoted money and wealth but not been able to give many the realistic option to even earn enough for a basic living, pressures to ‘get rich quick’ or ‘get it’ just build. That’s where the song comes back. We’re ready to move from serious consideration of problems to ‘eat’ quickly.

I discussed with a Bahamian friend over the weekend the problems that need to be addressed if crime is to be reduced, and it cannot happen if enough people are not committed to rooting out the problem. That means hurting themselves in many cases–communities living off the proceeds of crime will have to give that us and give up the people who bring in ill-gotten gains. His view, and mine, was that this ‘critical mass’ does not yet exist, especially about those in decision-making positions. Maybe, that’s because they are not too affected. If so, it will be interesting to see how the recent robbery at the home of the Deputy Prime Minister changes that sense of safety.

As the new year begins, the page on crime reduction and prevention needs to turn. It’s been well-thumbed and looks dog-eared. The Bahamas is emblematic of what the region is dealing with. Crime at the levels being seen can easily destroy what little economic base is working. Many enterprises have folded and stated that one of the reasons for that was crime. The Bahamas faces the real threat to its tourism that visitors will choose other destinations, and one major cruise line is on the brink of pulling out from the island. The impact of that on the livelihoods of the majority of the country would be devastating. Maybe the gap between those who are affected by crime and those who are not is large–remembering that much of the violent crime seems to be about ‘settling scores’, but innocent parties get caught up in squabbles between criminal elements.

The public presentations of ‘solutions’ to crime have been very focused on national issues and actions. I believe that the transnational base of much of the crime suggests that such approaches wont work for long. But, Caribbean political practices don’t tend to lean on collaboration. Our way or no way is common. Lacking, too, is the clear willingness to stand up and denounce criminals at all costs–and for some, that cost is real in terms of funding and being able to keep constituents contented.

Private sector is a problem too

Economics teaches us many things that suggest that enterprises, driven by the profit motive, will deliver many efficiencies. But, our daily lives tell us otherwise.

Jamaica is a country with an IMF arrangement. The government and central bank negotiate the details with the Fund and sign an agreement on behalf of the country. The message often given with such arrangements is that the government and public agencies are charged to do many things. The impression sometimes given us that the private sector, both firms and persons, are bystanders, usually suffering from a range of financial constraints and living with new laws.

People often see failures in public administration as the only problems to be corrected, and IMF arrangements tend to highlight these, making it seem that private business problems do not need to be addressed. Truthfully, the IMF does not have levers that can change many people’s behaviour in non-financial ways. But, bad or unhelpful business practices impose costs on us just as government inefficiency does.

Let’s just look at some common private sector problems in Jamaica.

You have some financial transactions to do and enter a bank and are guided to take a number to be served in order. During any given day, you may be behind 30 or more people. At least, this business has seen the benefits of single queues. However, you have some simple questions. But, the bank has no ‘Information’ counter; you must pose your questions to a teller. You may find that you cannot do what you want to because you lack some documents. But, to get to that point you’ve lined up for say 20 minutes. I really think it could be much more time, based on my experience. That’s a lot of time, though, especially if you consider what else may be involved in getting to and from the bank. But let’s say that a person needs to use their whole lunch hour to do banking. You can imagine how that time lost can ripple back to the person’s workplace.

Perhaps the bank has studied its customers and found that it’s more cost effective for THEM to organize things this way. Perhaps head office has sent instructions to branches and they are being applied nationally. There may be a process of assessing how the bank functions in the main banking hall.

Whatever their gains or savings, what has been imposed on the rest of us?

All I know is that for the past 30 years I’ve barely set foot in a bank to do transactions. I’ve been able to do them mostly online or electronically. Admitted, I’ve been living in the USA or UK. When I visit banks in either place I don’t see long lines.

Banks worldwide and in Jamaica are pressing customers to do more online, yet here I am stuck in lines.

For most transactions, I have to use cash. I can sometimes use a bank debit/credit card. Cheques may be accepted. I don’t want to walk around with tens of thousands in cash. It’s risky and makes little sense.

Part of the problem is on the bank side, part is a problem with other entities which may not facilitate electronic payment.

From what I can see, government has nothing to do with this situation. But the country may be much the worse for it in terms of wasted time, lost production, and lower productivity.

We could look at other aspects of any bank and how it functions; its administration; its accounting; its handling of personnel. Some things may work well in many senses, some may be on the verge of collapse. Hopefully, the good practices can spread and the poor ones get weeded out.

While the government and central bank are trying to get our macroeconomic state improved, we also need to work on fixing our microeconomics.

I’m not singling out banks, and could easily point my finger and several other sectors with whom I’ve come into contact recently.

I could cite almost every contact I’ve had with private companies in the past few months.

So, while we may gripe about the bloated civil service or bureaucratic red tape we have plenty of non governmental hurdles to cross.

Unfortunately, the spur for businesses may be profits and they may be fine. However, we’re all paying costs that could be lower or avoided.