Denise E Antonio, UNDP Resident Representative


Carried as a two-part series in the Gleaner newspaper of Jamaica on 3rd and 4th January 2020

Crime and Violence robs a nation of its true potential by deflating its productivity and growth, limiting access to its brightest minds, and re-channelling critical resources away from development targets.

As a relative newcomer to this beautiful country, I sense that Jamaica’s true greatness has been severely restrained because of the ongoing challenges posed by crime and violence and the rising costs it imposes.

The cost of crime, for example, has been tallied at approximately five per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or over USD 500 million per year, by former Minister of National Security, Robert Montague. “If crime was reduced by half, the economy would grow by 2.5% without the investment of a single additional dollar,” he is reported to have said.

In 2017, Jamaica’s homicide rate was 56 per 100,000; in 2018, the homicide rate dropped to 47 per 100,000, but remains three times higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Jamaica’s relatively small population cannot sustain the trauma of these mindboggling rates of insecurity without impacting its human and sustainable development potential.

Strategies must be flexible with a eye to new drivers

Unleashing Jamaica’s development potential starts with its strategy, calibrated for flexibility.

While multidimensional strategies provide results-driven road maps, tackling a major issue from different related angles, these strategies must remain living documents. This will enable adjustments and realignment of resources to tackle new and emerging drivers and triggers of insecurity, formulating where appropriate, progressive and proactive measures.

As the nation stays the course of its multidimensional security strategy, it may be useful to keep an eye on new and emerging factors driving crime and insecurity within Latin American and the Caribbean. Shocks from Climate Change have long entered the global discourse on human insecurity and are gaining some recognition among vulnerable Small Island Developing States. Climate Change has a disruptive impact on livelihoods, incomes, cost of living and security. It can reduce the income of farmers and the food supply; dislocate populations, increase energy costs with multiplier impact on the costs of living, and reduce a government’s ability to provide appropriate social safety net mechanisms.

Among the other drivers and triggers are the more familiar, which taken together paint a picture of inequality, unfair distribution of services and impunity. These include: a high rate of recidivism among young males; the Caribbean’s role as a  major transhipment zone for illegal drugs and illicit trade in small arms; a culture of violence due to toxic masculinities which negatively affects women causing high rates of violence against women; inter-gang rivalry especially driven by movement of narcotics and small arms; the growth in human trafficking; high levels of youth unemployment; corruption, extortion and fraud; inadequately responsive  institutions and governance systems.

There is a significant cost incurred as a result of these ongoing and emerging factors which redirects resources away from development programmes, delaying or even preventing the achievement of development targets.

The cost of crime

Crime and violence may be costing us 50% of our potential workforce, including our next generation of leaders: Administrative data show that the main victims and perpetrators of violent crimes are young males between the ages of 16 and 24. Women and girls on the other hand are the main victims of sexual crimes. One in four women (25.2 per cent) has experienced physical violence by a male partner, and 7.7 per cent has been sexually abused by their male partner. Battered women lose productive hours and their children suffer trauma and are likely to drop out of school.  As is the case globally, violence against women and girls in Jamaica is driven by an intersection of cultural, economic, social and political factors that undermine women’s position in the Jamaican society and reinforce notions of female subordination and male domination (Women’s Health Survey, 2016).

Jamaica must keep its eye on lower productivity/high unemployment rates as reported by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. While rates of unemployment have fallen to a historic low of 7.8% in the general population as reported July 2019; to 19.5 per cent as reported April 2019 among youth 14-24 years; and to 25.8% among female youth, it is clear our strategies must redouble efforts to focus on both male and female youth.

The Poverty rate in Jamaica must also be addressed, in order to undermine the opportunities for criminal activity and re-channel human resources to high potential productive enterprise. The rate increased by 2.2% to 19.3%in 2017 when compared to 17.1% in 2016 (Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions).

An increasing influx of involuntary returned migrants (IRMs) from mainly USA, Canada and the United Kingdom could be a significant cause for concern unless we seek to strategically engage IRMs to areas of work that can impact national growth. Alas, many Caribbean countries lack a coordinated national system to manage IRMs, some of whom add to the criminal burden of the countries.

We must also address Jamaica’s human development. Despite Jamaica’s HDI value for 2018 being 0.726— which puts the country in the high human development category—positioning it at 96 out of 189 countries, Jamaica and other countries in the region must invest more in human development.

Thankfully, public debt has fallen below 100% of GDP in 2018/19 and is expected to decline below 60% by 2025/26 (World Bank). This will free up additional resources permitting Jamaica to more effectively and efficiently tackle the roots of crime and violence.


UNDP's role critically appraised

UNDP has been pleased over the years to partner with the Government and people of Jamaica and other nations in this region in advancing peace and security with a focus on: Supporting justice reform and promoting equal access to justice services; supporting the elimination of discriminatory laws; advancing policies and programmes to reduce inequality; enhancing citizen’s safety and security (e.g. street lighting, small arms management); strengthening governance systems and the capacities of national and local institutions to deliver better services; strengthening law enforcement institutions to carry out their mandates; improving data gathering and management systems to better monitor crime; training members of the judiciary and law enforcement officials in human rights; improving the capacity of countries to lower risks to natural disasters and withstand shocks.

Our internal evaluations tell us that although our interventions have had some impacts, radical steps are needed to achieve lasting peace and security in the region. If we continue with “business as usual” we will lose the kind of impact we desire.. Also, many of our projects lack sustainability and often interventions cease when the project ends.

We are pleased to report, however that some UNDP implemented projects have improved the quality of peoples lives. Among them are: The ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme that has awarded 19 grants to artisans valuing USD 85,000 which they have used to significantly increase their income; the Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (JCCCP) Project, through its climate change adaptation activities at the community level, has supported sustainable agriculture, improved access to water including for irrigation thus enhancing livelihoods. The JCCCP also supported the development of a vibrant vegetable garden at a Correctional Facility by inmates. UNDP has also complemented national and local efforts for justice reform, reintegration of involuntary returned migrants, strengthening human resilience in selected communities, building national systems to combat Trafficking-in-Persons and enhancing social cohesion.

There is more UNDP can do

But there is more that we can do, and UNDP stands ready to support. For example, we must redouble efforts to provide psychosocial support to address the root causes and behavioural change. We must work to improve good governance and effective justice systems. Governance is the hand that cradles the Sustainable Development Goals: We must work to build strong inclusive institutions. More emphasis must be placed on reducing multi-dimensional and intergenerational poverty. Most Caribbean countries are Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and therefore require special support and attention. The one size fit all cannot work in and for these countries.

As a team, UNDP has learned that we must have a balance between upstream policy interventions and downstream practical projects featuring initiatives designed to directly engage and make people’s lives better. Climate Change projects, for example, can focus on community resilience through improving sustainable livelihoods. A major example of this is seen in the JCCCP Project.

Jamaica's future is bright

The quest for peace and security is well placed at the apex of Jamaica’s budgetary and development obligations and in its Vision 2030 plan for national development. When Jamaica achieves a sustainable level of peace and security, this may usher in the greatest period of human development and economic growth in Jamaica’s history. Jamaicans will have the freedom to live and reach their fullest potential; poverty and inequalities will be reduced; a healthy environment will be created  for effective provision of services; foreign direct investments that advance development aligned to the country’s priorities will improve significantly; social and political stability will improve, and Jamaicans will be enabled to build a more resilient society.

We hope that UNDP will continue to be a valuable partnership of choice to travel with you on   this journey to unleashing the sustainable development potential of Jamaica through strategic focus on peace and security. We stand ready to support you in this vital endeavour.

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