Thursday 26 November, 2020

St Catherine Chamber of Commerce eyeing longer state of emergency

The business community in St Catherine is as pleased as punch with the positive impact that the state of emergency has so far had in the communities within the St Catherine North Police Division.

Dennis Robotham, President of the St Catherine Chamber of Commerce, in particular, has embraced the Government's move to extend the state of emergency in the division to July 3, along with the revision and extension of business hours for large commercial enterprises. 

"It is a welcome move by the Government to extend the hours for large businesses from 6:00 to the new closing time of 10:00 p.m. We had called for an extension of the business hours weeks ago, so this is a welcome move, for both workers and business operators," Robotham told Loop News reporter Claude Mills.

According to Robotham, the business community is still optimistic about the long-term gains from a protracted state of emergency.

"We welcome the move to extend it until July 3rd. The business community knew there would be a loss of earnings in the short-term, and believes that this will eventually lead to long-term gain, so everyone is still on board," he said.

Prior to the declaration of the state of emergency, some 48 murders were committed in the St Catherine North Police Division between January 1 and March 17, the most for any police division or parish in the country. The murders were blamed mainly on infighting between members of the notorious Clansman gang who have been jockeying for control of the lucrative extortion racket mainly in Spanish Town, Linstead, Bog Walk and other town in the parish.

"Based on their experience in dealing with Montego Bay, the authorities should now know how to proceed to combat the criminals. It is a concern that the authorities aren't finding the guns, but it speaks to the level of communication and sophistication of the criminals, and how ingrained the criminality is in our culture. We need more time to change minds... in fact, July looks too short now (for the state of emergency to end)," Robotham said.

During the initial 14 days of the state of emergency, operating hours for businesses and other establishments in sections of the St Catherine North Police Division were adjusted in keeping with stipulations under the enhanced security operation.

According to the Constabulary Communication Unit (CCU), the closing hours for all businesses in Spanish Town, Linstead and Bog Walk were either 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m.

Those that should close by 7:00 p.m. were cook shops, dry goods establishments and haberdasheries, spirit license premises, service stations, clubs and fast food outlets, pharmacies and churches. Community recreational facilities should have also close by 6:00 p.m.

However, business owners, who have been feeling the pinch of the early closure, spoke out on the matter.

On Friday a revision of the opening hours for the businesses was announced.

The revised hours are:

* Community Recreational Areas by 6:00 p.m.

* Cook shops, dry goods and haberdasheries by 7:00 p.m.

* Spirit License premises by 9:00 p.m.

* Service Stations by 10:00 p.m.

* Clubs and fast food outlets by 10:00 p.m.

* Pharmacies by 10:00 p.m.

*Churches by 10:00 p.m.

Of note, one entrepreneur who operates a 24-hour petrol station in the division, complained that there had been a serious dent in revenue over the past month.

"Gas stations are feeling it because between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., we would see a lot of business from motorists, taxi men, bus operators, etcetera, and that is normally straight cash business. So the state of emergency, while necessary, is squeezing already thin margins. We don't know how much longer we can operate like this," one business operator told Loop News.

The issue, among others, will be further discussed during a business stakeholders' meeting set for next week.

"There will be a stakeholders' meeting tentatively set next Thursday, to discuss the issues. So we are looking forward to that. The revised working hours are a good sign, we have to look at the positives, because pump attendants had been concerned that they were losing valuable working hours because of the state of emergency," Robotham said.

The State of Public Emergency in St. Catherine North is the second such this year, following a similar declaration in the western parish of St James in January. Last month, Parliament voted to extend the state of emergency that was declared in the St Catherine North Police Division in March, until July 3.

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