Sunday 19 January, 2020

SOEs extended, but with only a 30-day lifeline

A security force checkpoint at Greenwood on the border of Trelawny and St James. (file photo)

A security force checkpoint at Greenwood on the border of Trelawny and St James. (file photo)

The House of Representatives on Tuesday night voted to extend the three ongoing states of emergency (SOE), but by just 30 days, rather than the usual three months.

This came about after the parliamentary Opposition again insisted that the emergency measures are not effective, and demanded that it be provided with more pertinent information by the time of the next vote in February.

The Opposition also made suggestions as to how the Government could bolster its crime-fighting measures without over-reliance on SOEs. Among the suggestions are more cordons and curfews, the establishment of security posts in known hotspots, and the apprehension and detention of known offenders.

Apart from the extensions being shorter than the Government desired, the approval was by the narrowest of margins, as only 42 Members of Parliament (MP) voted. That is the minimum requirement for the extension of the security measure, for which a two-thirds majority of the membership is required in both houses of Parliament.

There are 63 MPs in the House and, as he has done since last December, Central Manchester MP, Peter Bunting, said he would not support the emergency measure which he insisted has not worked. Rather, Bunting said the SOEs were being propped up by the Government’s public relations machinery.

With the House having voted, the SOE in the St Andrew South Police Division will be extended until February 4; that in Clarendon and St Catherine until February 18; and February 27 for the tri-parish area of St James, Westmoreland and Hanover.

Dr Horace Chang (file photo)

National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, who moved the three resolutions in the absence of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is overseas, insisted that the SOEs were working.

He pointed to sharp reductions in murders in Westmoreland, Hanover and in St Catherine North. However, the Opposition countered, arguing that the figures presented by Chang were selective, as up to December 7, there were 27 more murders in 2019, when compared to the similar period in 2018. Shootings are also up this year, when compared to last year.

After suggesting more cordons and curfews, among other measures, Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, told Government MPs: “You are making it look hard, and it is not that hard. It is tough, but not that tough”.

Phillips offered a 30-day extension to the SOEs, during which he said he expects the Government to produce information on the 70 active gangs it has been targeting. Phillips acknowledged that some of the information will be classified, but insisted that the Government provides more details on its fight against crime.

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