GOVERNMENT’S THREE-YEAR-OLD anti-harassment force has been described by tourism interests, in St Ann as an inefficient band of white-hat persons.
These white-hat persons, known as the Courtesy Corps is charged with the responsibility of reducing incidents of harassment against tourists. However, stakeholders have said the money being spent to keep them on the streets is being wasted.
Kumar Sujanani, vice-president of the In-Bond Merchants Association of St Mary, St Ann and Trelawny, told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Thursday that the Courtesy Corps in St Ann is “just decoration”.
“The boys on the roadside and the drug pushers, they don’t care about this courtesy corps. They carry on their activities right in front of them,” Sujanani said. “I am of the view that the Courtesy Corps are afraid of these boys and they are afraid to approach them. So, as to their validity and their effectiveness, it does not require a rocket scientist to conclude that they are completely ineffective,” Sujanani added.
Tourism interests have bemoaned the decline in business activity in the resort town and have blamed visitor harassment for contributing to the downturn.
Sue Morris, a representative of the National Cruise Council of Jamaica, read to the Editors’ Forum excerpts from letters which, she said, reflected the general consensus of cruise passengers that Ocho Rios should be avoided.
“Stay away from Jamaica!” a section of one of the letters read.
In another letter, according to Morris, “the gentleman had good things to say about the cruise, then he says, ‘now for the bad part: never, never, never, never go back to Jamaica! It was dangerous, and I felt unsafe. I think cruise lines should think about not stopping in Jamaica. People are very pushy and unfriendly. It makes you feel unsafe,'” Morris read.
She told The Editors’ Forum that if Ocho Rios did not pull up it socks, then it could be left behind.
The issue of tourist harassment has not been lost on government. As recent as last month, tourism minister Ed Bartlett addressed the issue in Parliament and said his team was “moving aggressively to reduce visitor harassment”.
The minister highlighted the Courtesy Corps as the team that was pursuing the vigorous fight against harassment.
“The Courtesy Corps is now in its third year. Just over 300 persons are employed through this programme. Indeed, we have been gratified by positive reports from sector partners and visitors,” Bartlett said.
The Courtesy Corps comprises special district constables who have been vested with the power of arrest. Johnny Marsh, regional coordinator of the Tourism Product Development Company, said this power has contributed to tensions between Jamaica Constabulary Force personnel in the parish and the Courtesy Corps. He said he plans to meet with the St Ann police to find a way to deal with the strained relationship between both groups.
However, Superintendent Gary Griffiths, head of the St Ann police, is of the view that the Courtesy Corps cannot provide the kind of security and patrol that is necessary for the resort town.
“The Courtesy Corps is pretty much a huggie-huggie, kissy-kissy group to make tourists feel good,” Griffiths said.
He told the Editors’ Forum that the levels of criminality in the parish required hard policing, which would drive fear into bad boys and give reassurance to tourists and law-abiding citizens.
“When I walk through JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy Airport in New York), I see police with big guns because of the terrorist threat. What exists in Ocho Rios requires the type of police that criminals fear so that decent people and tourists can walk without feeling fear,”stated Griffiths.
“The guys who are in Ocho Rios do not fear the bowler white hat and the white shirt. what they need is the kind of police that will make them take away themselves when they see them,” Griffiths added.
Meanwhile, Marsh said that while he had heard stories about visitor harassment, he had few complaints to support this.
“I am hearing stories every day about the amount of complains from the cruise ships. Today, I have only been able to get complaints from one ship, and that ship has never given more than seven complaints per 2,000 passengers,” March said.