Wednesday 30 September, 2020

Portmore, Old Harbour businesses get extended opening hours amid SOE

Sunshine Plaza where Palace Amusement's latest movie theatre is located was forced to discontinue 9 pm movies.

Sunshine Plaza where Palace Amusement's latest movie theatre is located was forced to discontinue 9 pm movies.

The business communities in Portmore and Old Harbor in St Catherine and May Pen, Clarendon are breathing a collective sigh of relief as their business hours, which were curtailed at 8 pm under the ongoing state of emergency (SOE), will be extended.

The extension, which could come as early as Wednesday, followed strong lobbying on the part of the parliamentary Opposition during Tuesday’s debate in the House of Representatives to extend the emergency measure that was imposed on September 5 for an initial two weeks.

This time around, Prime Minister Andrew Holness did not get the usual 90-day extension of the SOE that has followed every previous declaration.

Rather, the extension was limited to 45 days from the effective date of the declaration, or 30-days from Tuesday and will expire on October 19.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness had declared states of emergency for the two parishes earlier this month.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips and the Shadow Minister for National Security, Fitz Jackson, insisted that they would not continue to rubber-stamp extensions and demanded that the hours for businesses be extended.

Both men argued that areas like Portmore, May Pen and Old Harbour had to be treated differently. In the case of Portmore, Jackson further argued that there was no need to blanket the entire dormitory community with the security forces as there a few known hotspots which instead should be targeted for greater effect. He said the SOE was crippling businesses in the municipality.

Facing the possibility that the SOE would only have been extended by 21 days as was earlier suggested by Phillips, Holness agreed to Opposition demands and gave an assurance that the new opening hours for businesses will go up to 10 pm initially, pending discussions with the Commissioner of Police. National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang assured that the new opening hours will be gazetted on Wednesday.

Phillips then agreed to a 30-day extension to give the government time to also address other outstanding matters including the amount of money being spent on SOEs and what they have achieved to date.

Phillips signalled that the opposition was no longer prepared to accept the government’s ‘take it or leave it approach” and Jackson pointed to the prime minister’s attitude even while he was seeking the support of the opposition.

“Over time with the state of emergency matter we have asked for data…How many (persons) have been detained? How many gangs in the area? What’s the prospect of dismantling the gangs? What are the measures you (are) using? How many people charged? What are the objectives? What’s the progress? And yet we get nothing at all,” Phillips remarked.

Oppositon Leader Peter Phillips

The opposition leader signalled to Holness that he was fed up with his approach.

“All that happens is every time you come the night before (the SOE is set to expire) or the week before and say, ‘just vote, vote now’.

“Quite frankly, it seems to us the state of emergency is being used as a kind of symbolism just to give the impression that we seriously grappling with the problem,” Phillips stated.

Jackson, who is the Member of Parliament for South St Catherine, told the House during the debate that places like the popular Ken’s Wild Flower at Bayside in Portmore had become a virtual ghost town since the imposition of the SOE.

He said the ripple effect was such that pan chicken operators who do thriving business in the area, in large part due to the patrons that attend Ken’s Wildflower, were feeling the pinch.

He also noted that the new Sunshine Plaza where Palace Amusement's latest movie theatre is located was forced to discontinue 9 pm movies.

And he told of a young entrepreneur who, having invested heavily in a sports bar in the new plaza, was watching his investment collapse as he made most of his money after 7 pm and was faced with a $500,000 monthly bill.

Being a dormitory community the majority of persons who live in Portmore, work outside the municipality. Jackson said that at a meeting he attended with members of the business community he was told by one businesswoman that her cash register begins turning over after 6 pm when residents are returning home.

He lamented that supermarkets, service stations, wholesales, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and the small entrepreneurs who operate their stalls, were all adversely affected by the 8 pm closing time.

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Meanwhile, Phillips said that apart from the murders, there are other issues that give rise to concern.

He noted that with the two latest declarations, nearly half the parishes are now affected by SOEs.

“We are moving whether by design, by chance, or by stealth, to an islandwide state of emergency and I can say frankly, we don’t think that that is desirable, nor indeed necessary,” he said.

“The problem is that it’s not just unfair to citizens but it sets back economic life, especially for the poorest…the people who try to hustle a living on the margins of society,” Phillips added.

The opposition leader warned that “the effect of that is going to make the impulse to criminal behaviour greater.”

He further argued that provisions for an SOE were not designed to be a crime plan for the obvious reason that it is too disruptive….” and that is why it can’t be sustained over a long period of time.”

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