Sat | Jun 15, 2024

Editorial | Jamaica needs help

Published:Saturday | September 23, 2023 | 12:06 AM
This file photo shows firearms seized at Freeport wharf in Montego Bay, St James.
This file photo shows firearms seized at Freeport wharf in Montego Bay, St James.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang needs to be more explicit about the targeted approaches which he says Government is using to tackle the illicit trade in illegal firearms and drugs.

Dr Chang cited as evidence of a more robust approach to the problem, the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, 2022; major amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act, 2019; and the expanded focus of the Jamaica Customs Agency in securing our borders. Success here will depend on how vigorously laws are enforced and how Customs is equipped to deal with the problem. We cannot overstate how poor Jamaica is at law enforcement.

Mere days after US President Joe Biden named Jamaica among drug-producing and transit nations, Dr Chang told the 130-plus member International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) in the city of Montego Bay earlier this week, of the robust approaches Jamaica is taking to deal with illicit drugs and arms.

This may have sounded impressive to an international audience, but with 80 per cent of murders being committed with the gun, it will take more to convince the local population that any of the strategies employed by the government are indeed working or that the international cooperation being sought from countries like the United States is bearing fruit.

We do appreciate that some information will be kept confidential, but Jamaicans who live in fear of the next attack in their community want to be assured that the expanded role of the Customs agency, for example, will lead to fewer firearms flowing into the country which ultimately find their way into the hands of criminals.

SUPPLY OF GUNS

Has the Jamaica Customs Agency been effective in interrupting the supply of guns at our border? The fact is that small villages in Jamaica where traditionally the gun was only seen on television, are now part of the spread of death and mayhem through the efforts of armed criminals.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has seized every opportunity in regional and international fora to talk about the devastating effect of illegal arms on small islands and how violence is stifling national growth. He continues to appeal for help while acknowledging that weapons-smuggling is intertwined with drug trafficking.

If the US Government is really serious about helping the region, all it really needs to do is to plug the pipeline which is arming criminals in Jamaica and elsewhere.

Last year an investment of $73 million was established by the United Nations in collaboration with the Government to establish the SALIENT programme in Norwood, St James. It was billed as one leg of the fight against illicit gun trade. But has it interrupted the flow of guns and ammunition? Is St James a safer place for its efforts? The jury is still out on how successful this programme has been in meeting its objectives.

There have also been campaigns like Operations Get Every Illegal Gun targeting guns and gunmen, as well as a bump in the rewards paid for illegal gun information filtered through crime stop. None of those efforts appear to be enough. Jamaica needs help to stop the guns from coming in, that is the message Dr Chang needs to convey at every opportunity.

But can the US government realistically be expected to take on the gun manufacturers? One thing for sure, the problem cannot be solved by political posturing and promises, there has to be a policy decision to demand greater accountability of weapons manufacturers and there has to be targeted interruption of smuggling efforts.

The Biden administration should not squander this opportunity to help its neighbours escape this epidemic of gun violence, for their betterment will also be America’s benefit.