Tuesday 31 March, 2020

Eyes on PNP: Extension of St James state of emergency up for debate

Members of the security forces conduct spot checks during the state of emrgency in St Catherine North. (PHOTO: File)

Members of the security forces conduct spot checks during the state of emrgency in St Catherine North. (PHOTO: File)

All eyes will be on the parliamentary Opposition on Tuesday when the House of Representatives meets to debate a resolution to extend the State of Emergency in St James for another three months until October.

While the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has repeatedly warned that it will not support the emergency measure indefinitely, political watchers will be looking to see whether the party will carry out its threat to withdraw its support from the Andrew Holness-led Government's security measure.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips issued the warning last week, stating that the PNP would consider withdrawing its support from the Government if the Prime Minister does not fire Science and Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley from his Cabinet.

The prime minister had, a week earlier, stripped Wheatley of the energy portfolio, over which he personally assumed responsibility. But the Opposition said this was not enough. It said Wheatley should be made to account for the unfolding scandal at the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam.

When he was energy minister, Wheatley had oversight responsibility for the refinery which has been caught up in a deepening scandal over the past two months following allegations of inappropriate spending, nepotism and cronyism as well as breaches of Government’s procurement guidelines. Three separate investigations are now taking place at Petrojam involving the Integrity Commission, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and the Auditor General’s department.

The three Jamaican board members tendered their resignations in June and have since been replaced and the embattled General Manager Floyd Grindley left the company last week.

But, while the calls for Wheatley’s head continues and while the prime minister continues to insist that he will only act if confronted with evidence of wrongdoing, the matter of an extension of the state of emergency in St James will take centre stage on Tuesday.

Of note is that 52 murders have been recorded in the parish since the start of the year, with 42 of those being committed since the state of emergency was first imposed on January 18. However, with 105 fewer murders this year when compared to the same period in 2017, the Mayor of Montego Bay, Homer Davis, has been making a public appeal in the media for the opposition to support an extension of the state of emergency until November 2.

Some 335 people were murdered in St James in 2017, making it the bloodiest parish in the country in a year when more than 1,600 people were killed.

The House of Representatives voted two weeks ago to extend the state of emergency in the St Catherine North police division for an additional three months.

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