Friday 24 May, 2019

PJ Patterson bats for National Security Commission to fight crime

Former PM PJ Patterson was addressing the Kingston Lay Magistrates Awards Ceremony. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter).

Former PM PJ Patterson was addressing the Kingston Lay Magistrates Awards Ceremony. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter).

Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, is proposing the establishment of a National Security Commission as a way the two main political parties can come together to fight crime.

According to Patterson, such a commission would operate in much the same way that the former Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC), now Electoral Commission of Jamaica, works.   

Patterson, who was addressing Justices of the Peace (JPs) at an awards banquet  at the Spanish Court Hotel on Saturday night, made the suggestion of the commission against the background of the recent public war of words between the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) on the salient matter of crime-fighting.

The two parties eventually met and agreed to work to find solutions. However, that was after weeks of a public spat that followed the decision by the PNP to withdraw its support from three states of emergency (SOEs) that the government had used as the main plank of its crime-fighting armour for the better part of 2018. Among other things, the PNP argued that the extended SOEs were unconstitutional and had long lost their effectiveness.

Patterson, who served four terms as Jamaica’s Prime Minister during which his administration grappled with containing crime, told JPs that in proposing the setting up of the commission, he would “deliberately avoid any trespass on the debate as to the constitutionality of the SOEs or whether or not extensions of the these SOE declarations were justified or not.”

But, he said he was convinced that the country would benefit from using the same model that was used to establish the EAC in 1979, to set up a security commission.

“Some of you may have forgotten that less than four decades ago, our electoral system suffered severe convulsions which threatened to tear apart the delicate fabric of our nascent democracy. Faced with the imminent danger of ripping our society to shreds, good sense prevailed and the political leadership of both sides, strongly supported by the media, the clergy, academia, our professionals and civil society were able to design and create what now ranks among the most efficient and highly respected electoral machineries in the world,” Patterson said.

He added that it is “full confidence in the integrity of the electoral system and the maturation of our two-party tradition which enabled a new government to be sworn in within days of the last general elections, with the slender majority of a single seat - without a single shot, without the need for judicial recourse or foreign intervention.”

The former prime minister is confident the same model could be successful on the crime-fighting front.

“Tonight, with the full benefit of long reflection in the pavilion and 20/20 hindsight, I have come firmly to the strong personal conviction, that the EAC model must be the kernel in the fight to combat excessive crime and wanton violence, which not just today but during the life of past administrations, including my own, constitutes the greatest threat to our society and its prospects for prosperity,” Patterson stated.

In explaining how the body would work, Patterson said it would eventually incorporate a range of wide-ranging functions now spread across The Police Services Commission, The Office of Complaints Authority, INDECOM and a myriad of related groups. It would consist of three independent persons chosen for their expertise by the Governor General after due consultations, with one person nominated by the Prime Minister and one by the Leader of the Opposition.

According to Patterson, “where constitutional and institutional restraints exist, that can only be removed by legislative action which requires a stipulated time-table, we may have to begin initially with a body, which like the EAC, only acquires full commission status for aspects of national security in an agreed parliamentary time frame.”

He said the government would retain the power for the original declaration of a SOE while the EAC practice could be applied to matters pertaining to their extension. He said extensions would be first considered by such a group and their recommendation then approved by recourse to parliament in accordance with the existing legislative requirements for extensions.

“This would allow for certainty where required and avoid the danger that a state of emergency was being extended or curtailed for partisan political reasons.

“I firmly believe the creation and nurturing of a National Security Commission is the most constructive way to secure and build national consensus in order to fashion a common design and bridge the partisan divide, without which we will always be prone to scoring political points and never permanently curtail the menace of violent crime,” Patterson concluded.

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