By Anton Edmunds
Recent statements attributed to the Jamaican Minister for National Security Peter Bunting will hopefully help reverse a long held and misguided belief by many that crime and violence in the Caribbean has little impact on the region’s economic growth. Speaking at the launch of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation’s 31st annual workplace convention and expo, the minister made the argument for increased investment in Jamaica’s national security linking it directly to economic growth and development. He pointed out that investor confidence is eroded by crime and the cost of doing business is being driven up.
Anton Edmunds heads The Edmunds Group International, LLC (TEG), an advisory services firm that focuses on the Caribbean Basin region and is a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Americas Program.
Quoting a University of the West Indies study, the minister said that, if the country had a “normal” crime rate over the last four decades, its economy would have been 3-10 times its current size. A recent series of studies commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) also highlighted the impact of crime and violence on the region, with Latin American and Caribbean citizens citing this as their top concern.
The response was somewhat different in June of 2011 at an IDB conference entitled “International Forum on Caribbean Investment and Development” in Washington, when a panel that included two ministers from the Caribbean and senior representatives from the banking community and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), appeared for the most part to play down the impact of crime and violence on regional economic development. The banking executives did not see crime as an issue of major concern and neither did one of the ministers. The ECLAC representative indicated that their institution did not include crime as an indicator when they analyzed regional economic growth.
Sadly, there was only one panelist that acknowledged the impact on investor confidence and economic development. All this while the majority of the countries in the region had been experiencing a significant rise in crime rates, with the citizenry increasingly retreating to the safe confines of their homes at sunset and all countries seeing the explosive growth of security service companies.
The reality for the Caribbean is that, despite its bucolic image, crime is a growing problem. The region’s strategic positioning for the drug trade, porous borders, a growing and disenfranchised young population and weak social infrastructure have all contributed to the rise in crime and corresponding violence. In an interconnected world where the visitor and investor conduct online searches even before visiting any official advisory website, the region can no longer hide from the truth. Beyond the real possibility of capital staying away there is the increasing movement of money and people from the region.
With the recent proliferation of citizen security programs within the multilateral community, there is an opportunity to address the issue. Critical, however, is that the traditional silo system of agencies not talking to each other has to be changed. Nothing less than a coordinated approach on addressing youth underemployment, a floundering legal and penal system and the development of a rehabilitation framework amongst other things is needed. Entities like the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the State Department amongst others can only be helpful if they synchronize programs to prevent duplication and effectively utilize the limited resources available.
Caribbean governments and their private sectors also need to partner with each other and the multilateral community, investing in initiatives that tackle the identified root causes of the issue. There is a very short window of opportunity to save a generation of youth and to assure the local and international community that the Caribbean is a region safe to stay and invest.