Sunday 9 August, 2020

I'm not an authoritarian leader, says Holness

Andrew Holness

Andrew Holness

By Lynford Simpson

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has hit back at criticism that his Government’s approach to states of emergency (SOE) is akin to that of an authoritarian regime.

The criticism was levelled against Holness on Tuesday by the newly-installed Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, Peter Bunting. This, as the House debated and passed a resolution to extend until July 25, the SOE that was imposed in the Kingston western and central police divisions on June 14.

Insisting that the SOEs have not worked, especially as it relates to curtailing murders, Bunting repeated his claim from the previous week that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was hiding the crime statistics.

“Prime Minister, that’s not the behavior of a liberal democracy; that is not good governance. That is not transparency, that doesn’t show a respect for the members of this House who you’re asking to vote to suspend people’s rights but not giving them the information that they need to come to their independent decision,” Bunting told Holness.

Peter Bunting

He accused the prime minister of using SOEs as a form of social control rather than using social investment to tackle the country’s crime problem.

“Social control is using things like states of emergency, curfews, locking up people without charge, widespread surveillance of citizens, suppressing information, growing your military, versus your policing,” Bunting stated.

The former national security minister in the last People’s National Party government asserted that the strength of the JCF has not grown “but the military is growing by leaps and bounds”.

“The militarization of our policing is another definite trend in governments who put an emphasis on social control, suppressing the information,” Bunting argued. He asserted that governments that focus on social investment actually “Invest in good schools in the communities that are generating criminals”.

“They invest in proper housing in those communities, proper infrastructure…they invest in training people for employment, they invest in clearing the derelict buildings from communities and improving the lighting in communities,” Bunting added. He accused the Holness administration of spending billions of dollars on social control.

Bunting told the prime minister that while he has often stressed that both sides need to put up a united front in the fight against crime,

“Unity cannot mean that the Opposition capitulates to your position every time. That is not unity prime minister; that is appeasement,” he said.

Added Bunting: “We have seen in the past where parties and governments that follow a policy of appeasement, (it) generally lead to authoritarians taking advantage of them”.

The Opposition spokesman said he was open to compromise but, like he has done for nearly two years, voted against the extension of the SOE.

For his part, Holness was quick to dismiss the criticisms when he rose to close the debate.

“I find it actually offensive personally, for anyone to suggest that I am trying to be an authoritarian, that’s absolutely not the case,” Holness stated.

“I go to great lengths to ensure that I have no action that could ever be used to suggest that,” he added.

The prime minister said he has gone out of his way to ensure that  “Whenever there are exceptional powers to be utilised by the office that I hold, I have been very careful about how they are exercised”.

He said that even when not required, he has subjected himself to parliamentary review and oversight.

“And I wish to assure the nation that there is no attempt whatsoever to militarise our policing. What the SOEs have done is to ensure that we are able to expand the policing presence as requested by members of that side (the Opposition) in a way that gives the security forces the ability to be more functional and operational”.

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