Saturday 19 September, 2020

CRIPPLING BLOW: States of emergency to end as PNP withdraws support

The states of emergency is a major component of the crime fighting measures of the Andrew Holness-led administration.

The states of emergency is a major component of the crime fighting measures of the Andrew Holness-led administration.

The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) on Tuesday withdrew its support for the three states of emergency (SOE) across several parishes and police divisions.

This effectively means that when the emergency measure comes to an end on separate dates in January, it will not be renewed.

This has dealt a crippling blow to a major component of the crime fighting measures of the Andrew Holness-led administration.

Following an hours-long debate during which the position of the Opposition was long telegraphed, Prime Minster Andrew Holness made a last minute appeal at 10:25 pm when he asked that the debate be suspended until Wednesday to allow Opposition members time to reconsider their position before the matter was put to a vote.

However, that was rejected.

Holness then asked for a five minute recess before the House voted on the resolutions that were debated and it seemed the Opposition had also rejected that position.

“They are in such a hurry to vote against it,” was one of the sotto voce remarks that was picked up on the microphones.

Eventually, a 10-minute recess was taken and, upon resumption at 10:35 pm, a seemingly deflated Prime Minister said “Mr Speaker, all that’s left is for me to rest my case,” before he made one final appeal to his Opposition colleagues.

But, when the vote proceeded, the House first unanimously approved extensions to the Zones of Special Operation (ZOSOs) into 2019.

However, as was expected, a vote saw the SOEs being terminated along partisan lines. All 33 Government members present voted to extend the emergency measure in the Corporate Area, while the 21 Opposition members present voted no on the first resolution.

Nine MPs were absent. When they voted on the second resolution, the 33 Government members present voted yes to extend the SOE in St James while 20 Opposition members voted no with 10 MPs absent.

The third vote to extend the SOE in the St Catherine North division saw 33 yes votes from the Government with 20 Opposition MPs voting no while 10 MPs were absent.  A two-thirds majority is needed in both Houses of parliament to keep a SOE in force.

This is the second time in eight years that the PNP has voted to terminate a SOE. In 2010, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding pleaded with the then Opposition to extend the SOE that was imposed in the lead-up to the West Kingston incursion and which was credited with reducing crime in the Corporate Area.

Golding wanted to extend the emergency measure to the parish of St Catherine, specifically Spanish Town that was seeing an upsurge in crime.

Long before the vote was taken Tuesday night, there was word on the streets that the Opposition was about to end the SOEs. After the vote, the sotto voce comments continued. “I can’t believe it,” Government members were heard saying.

When he spoke during the debate, an angry West Kingston MP, Desmond McKenzie, told the Opposition that this was their Christmas gift to Jamaicans. He lamented that more families will lose loved ones to criminals.

A SOE was first imposed in St James on January 18 this year after the parish recorded more than 330 murders in 2017, making it the bloodiest parish in the country. But while the country’s murder rate has declined by 21 per cent so far this year when compared to 2017 when more than 1,600 people were killed, the PNP had repeatedly warned that it would not give indefinite support to the SOEs.

The second SOE was imposed in St Catherine North in March while in September, another SOE was imposed in three police divisions in Kingston and St Andrew.

Among other things, the Opposition argued that the emergency measure breached persons’ constitutional rights, that it was not necessary for it to remain in force for so long, that regular policing can address the crime problem, that businesses and private citizens were being inconvenienced and that the Government needed to present a crime plan to the country.

When she made her contribution to the debate, the MP for St James West Central and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, sensing that the parliamentary Opposition was about to withdraw its support for the SOE, spoke in slow, measured tones as she pleaded for a further extension.

Speaking of her own constituency, the Attorney General said: “Mr Speaker, there is a certain level of criminality, brutality and horror in certain sections of the parish which we should never accept as normal.”

She said the work that has started should be allowed to continue.

For his part, Finance Minister and North West St Andrew MP, Dr Nigel Clarke said it was important to maintain the right balance as he made the futile case for an extension.

Dr Clarke conceded that the SOE could not go on indefinitely but argued that “given the circumstances on the ground, it is too early to give it up.”

The Prime Minister struggled to keep his emotions in check as he closed the debate, at one time appealing directly to the Opposition Leader, appearing to tell him to do it for his children and grand children.

He told the Opposition that “you’re doing the wrong thing.”

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