Phillips to unveil security strategy by month-end
CHARMAINE N CLARKE, Western Bureau Editor
National Security Minister Dr Peter Phillips (2nd right) talks shop with (from left) Francois Mongin, chief of service, French Customs; Alison Moore, Jamaica's commissioner of customs; and Douglas Browning, assistant commissioner, US customs at yesterday's opening of the 24th annual Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council Conference at the Renaissance Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios. (Photo: Michael Gordon)
NATIONAL Security Minister Dr Peter Phillips says he expects to complete a review of the island's security systems by this month-end and will, at that time, tell Jamaicans how he intends to address the systems' shortcomings.
"I hope (to finish the review) before too long, certainly before the end of this year and certainly before we get into the Christmas season," Phillips told journalists yesterday after the opening of the 24th annual Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council Conference at the Renaissance Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios.
"I really think, certainly I'll have to report to the country as to some of the priority considerations and strategic approaches following this review. I hope that towards the end of this month or thereabouts we'll have something to say more specifically about some of the issues, if not all of them."
The review covers security of the island's ports, a matter that has been pushed to the forefront in the wake of the implication of law enforcement and customs employees in last week's major gun and ammunitions find.
"I think it is clear that we're going to have to revisit the whole question of the security of our ports," Phillips said. "And... that is going to involve a very visible and tangible commitment on the part of all stakeholders, including the private sector, operators of the port, the public sector and the general community."
He added that the review would also include looking at Jamaica's relationship with first world countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, some of whom he had already approached for assistance. They may be approached, he said, to provide funds for equipment such as X-ray machines, which are needed to increase port security.
"It's not just a question of the guns and the contraband which penetrate our own borders, but I think what the events of last September have shown is that security of any nation is really a global exercise. Other nations expect us to fulfill our obligations as we expect them to fulfill theirs towards us," Phillips said. "We are going to have to undertake a review of all these things. When that is completed, I'll say something more specifically to you and to the country as a whole about those things."
In his address to the conference, which was attended by delegates from 37 countries, Dr Phillips argued that developing countries were faced with the difficult problem of achieving a balancing act between the openness that comes with free trade and the restrictions needed to keep out contraband.
"Developing countries such as ours are prime targets for the transnational network of criminals," he said. "At the same time, we do not possess the requisite expertise, intelligence-gathering or sophisticated equipment to adequately provide the margin of safety we need to detect the illicit movement of drugs, guns, ammunition or human cargo."
Members of the island's narcotics police have long complained that they do not have adequate manpower or equipment to patrol Jamaica's coastline, and there has been concern raised about the fleet of boats available to the Coast Guard. Phillips was unable to say how many boats are available, but stressed that the Coast Guard was still at work and the shortage of equipment was among the issues to be addressed once the review is completed.
The review, the minister said, will include meetings with multilateral agencies, human rights groups, the island's security forces and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party.
"I feel very strongly that if we are to combat the nature of this threat that we face as a country, that it requires a far-reaching national consensus. And to that extent, I am prepared to make every effort possible to be inclusive in my approach to this matter," Phillips said. "Now obviously, the very nature of security requires that at some point there has to be confidences and confidentiality in certain areas. But on the question of policy and the overall approach, certainly this is something that we must discuss because we ought not to be divided as a country on this."