Golding joins call for diaspora engagement in crime-fight talks

Opposition Leader Mark Golding is calling for a re-engagement of Jamaican Diaspora experts on crime and security to be placed on the table in the next round of Vale Royal talks, which Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated he wants to resume with the Opposition early this month with the support of the church.

Golding, who said last week that the talks should not focus only on the issue of the states of public emergency (SOEs), but also on useful dialogue with potential consensus on broader national security, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that among that wider discussion should be “an immediate reset of the GoJ’s engagement with the Jamaican Diaspora’s experts on crime and security matters, to achieve a productive footing that can help Jamaica overcome our most serious national problem”.

Golding’s call comes after two diaspora leaders last week chided the Government for neglecting to engage law-abiding Jamaicans living in the US in its local crime-fighting efforts.

Dr Rupert Francis, head of the diaspora crime and prevention task force in Florida, and Irwine Clare, head of Caribbean Immigrant Services in New York, were reacting to Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s reiteration that his Administration had provided American law enforcement agencies with a list of the names of Jamaicans living in the United States who are connected to murders and other crimes in Jamaica.

“It’s all a red herring. The same people they could have met with in Jamaica they used taxpayers’ money to come to the United States,” Francis said of Holness and his team’s recent meeting with the FBI and other law enforcement entities in New York.

“This is just a red herring to throw you off. They are trying to say that a lot of people of Jamaican heritage [in the United States] are the real dons. That cannot be the case, because they have a lot of people in Jamaica who are carrying on the skulduggery. I do believe the majority of it comes from Jamaica,” Francis insisted.

Golding has said that his side welcomes the resumption of the talks, and wants the sessions to include a mutual commitment to continuous consultation to build consensus on making Jamaica safe.

“Additionally, and more specifically, we wish the following items to be included in the discussions: a comprehensive national programme to engage youth at risk; a new legislative mechanism to target known violence producers [and] reimagining and redefining the scope of Zones of Special Operations as the main tool to restore order and peace in troubled communities,” he outlined. Furthermore, he said there should be a shared understanding of the specific objectives of the proposed and long overdue legislation for enhanced security measures.

Meanwhile, discussions are ramping up among church leaders around the anticipated talks. New chair of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches (JUGC) Rev Dr Elaine McCarthy has indicated that the group is planning its own meeting for early next week to pinpoint areas of national concern, which it believes the Government and Opposition should prioritise.

National security, and in particular the long-standing impasse between the Government and Opposition over the sustained use of SOEs as a crime-fighting tool, is expected to be the main focus of the high-level talks.

Announcing a new declaration of SOEs for eight parishes on December 28, Holness said the Government intends to ask the church to host the talks.

“We have agreed — we have met with the churches, and the church has been a very reasonable voice, those who don’t have on political blinders, in bringing the country and our leaders together. I intend to once more, in early January, invite the leader of the Opposition under the established umbrella of the Vale Royal talks; maybe the church could host us and see if we can broker some understanding,” he said.

“Sometimes consensus is harder to build than to get things done, and the longer you take to build consensus, especially on matters where people hold fundamental positions, you could squander a lot of time and resources, while the ultimate objective is not achieved,” Holness added.

Golding continues to contend that there has been a lack of genuine desire on the Government’s part to seek consensus on critical issues. He indicated last week that the Opposition intends to ask the court to settle the question of the constitutionality of the SOEs, based on legal advice on those that were declared on December 6 and 28. In November the Opposition rejected the Government’s pleas for support to extend the December 6 SOEs for 46 additional days.

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