Tuesday 20 August, 2019

Bunting and Golding say ‘no’ in House vote for SOE extension

Mark Golding (file photo)

Mark Golding (file photo)

Two Opposition Members of Parliament (MP), Peter Bunting and Mark Golding voted ‘no’ as the House of Representatives approved an extension to the state of emergency (SOE) that was declared for the St Andrew South Police Division on July 7.

The extension will see the emergency measure remaining in force until October 5.

Just like he did on May 7 when he was the lone Opposition MP to vote against an extension of the SOE that was declared for the three western parishes of Hanover, Westmoreland and St James, Bunting again argued on Tuesday that the Government had not demonstrated that the SOE was an effective crime-fighting tool.

On that occasion, he also argued that the Administration had not shown that the country was facing an emergency.

This time Bunting was joined by Golding, the MP for St Andrew South. Golding is also the chairman of Bunting's 'Rise United’ campaign as he challenges the incumbent President of the People’s National Party (PNP), Dr Peter Phillips, for leadership of the party.

At the end of the debate on the resolution that was moved by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the House voted 44 for and two against, while 17 members were absent. With a two-thirds majority needed from the 63-member House to extend the SOE, it was another close count, and almost identical to the 44 ‘yes’ votes, one ‘no’ vote and 18 absentee members from the May 7 vote.

On Tuesday, the Clerk of the House appeared to take an inordinately long time to tally the numbers.

It is expected that Bunting will again vote ‘no’ next week when the House is expected to vote on whether to extend the SOE in the three western parishes before Parliament is prorogue for the summer.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (file photo)

In making the case for the extension, Holness again pointed to statistics, both local and international. He said between January 1 and July 15 this year, the country recorded 726 murders and 726 cases of shooting across 19 police divisions.

He also said there were significant reductions in murders in several parishes.

The prime minister also said that within the Latin American region, Jamaica had a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 of the population, which puts the country third behind Venezuela at 81.4 per 100,000, and El Salvador at 51 per 100,000.

The regional average is 16 per 100,000, a figure which Holness said the SOE, among other crime-fighting measures, is geared at helping Jamaica achieve within five to seven years. If that happens, the country would have a homicide rate of about 500 per annum. The global average is six homicides per 100,000 of the population.

In stating that the year-long SOE that was imposed in 2018 had resulted in over 360 fewer murders that year, when compared to 2017 when the country recorded 57 murders per 100,000 of the population, Holness said “without question, the SOE is a very effective tool in the fight against crime”.

But Bunting disagreed with that assertion.

Peter Bunting (file photo)

The Central Manchester MP closed his presentation by stating: “I have tried to show that using the JCF’s (Jamaica Constabulary Force) own statistics, we are getting diminishing returns from this current approach to using states of emergency as our principal tool of policing. It is unconstitutional and it’s not effective as a national crime-fighting strategy.

“I shall not support it because of these two reasons – it is ineffective and unconstitutional.”

During his contribution to the debate, Shadow Minister of National Security, Fitz Jackson, told the prime minister that he was merely repeating statistics while the situation remained the same, despite the ongoing SOEs.

Dr Peter Phillips (file photo)

For his part, Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Philips repeated his call for a stakeholders’ meeting to discuss the matter of crime. Phillips said he would support the extension of the SOE on this occasion because residents in the affected communities need some relief from the constant fear in which they exist.

But he said that after six SOEs over 18 months, murders were in fact on the increase.

Among other things, Phillips urged the Government to seek co-operation from international partners, where necessary, while boosting the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the security forces.

He also cited the "lenient sentences" being handed down in the courts for persons convicted of serious crimes as being demoralising to the efforts of the security forces and lawmakers to combat the problem.

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