Thursday 9 April, 2020

State of emergency in St James, ZOSOs extended

Andrew Holness

Andrew Holness

The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to extend the state of emergency in St James, as well as the Zones of Special Operation in Mount Salem, St James and Denham Town in West Kingston.

The state of emergency in St James has been extended by another three months until November 2, while the ZOSOs have been extended by a further 60 days.

All 52 Members of Parliament who were present at the sitting supported the resolution authorising the extension of the state of emergency. Eleven MPs were absent.

The parliamentary Opposition calmed fears Tuesday by again giving its support to the continuation of the emergency measure, although members voiced their dissatisfaction at the now protracted exercise.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who moved the resolution authorising the extension, appealed for more time for the emergency measure to work. He noted that since the declaration of the exercise in St James and the resultant significant decline in murders in the parish, average daily murders have fallen from 4.65 to 3.44 nationally.

The Prime Minister pointed to statistics that show that between January 1 and July 14 there have been 51 murders in St. James, a 67 per cent decline or some 105 fewer murders when compared to the similar period in 2017.

The state of emergency was imposed after more than 330 people were killed in the parish last year. The Prime Minister noted that with a murder rate of 182 per 100,000, had it been a country, St James would have been the bloodiest in the world.

Meanwhile, between January and June, some 2,729 people were detained by the security forces. Of that number, some 20 alleged gang leaders have been charged.

For his part, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips renewed his call for a comprehensive analysis of the factors that have contributed to the decline in murders. He said this would help to craft long-term strategies.

Although the previous resolution authorising the state of emergency is in place until the first week of August, the House voted to authorise the extension on Tuesday as the parliament will proceed on its usual summer break this week.

It is expected that the Senate will approve the extension on Friday.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives also voted on Tuesday to extend the ZOSOs in Mount Salem and Denham Town following a brief debate on two resolutions piloted by Holness.

The Prime Minister told the House that while shootings have declined in Denham Town, the potential for conflicts still exist as residents use implements such as knives and machetes to settle disputes.

He pointed to past interventions by the security forces in West Kingston which he said did not have the desired results as the communities were not transformed and quickly reverted to the previous state.

"It is not the intention this time for the Government to make the investment in securing these communities and not come away assured that we have, once and for all, fundamentally transformed those communities," Holness stated.

The social intervention component of the ZOSOs has seen residents acquiring national identification while being exposed to skills training. There is also increased garbage collection as well as a block-making project and a back-to-school support programme operating in the ZOSOs.

Additionally, there is a parenting support programme as well as community outreach.

“Mr Speaker, the one that I’m pleased about the most is the increase in opportunities for employment, particularly in Mount Salem,” the Prime Minister said.

He told the House that he was informed that a certain company in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector needed some 400 employees.

“And one of the places that they went to, to fill that need was Mount Salem," Holness revealed.

In making the point for the extension of the ZOSO in Denham Town, the prime minister told the House that when the operation moved from the 'build' to the 'hold' phase, where fewer members of the security forces were present, gunmen from nearby communities attacked and killed residents in the community.

"The situation there is still one that is of grave concern and there should not be at this time any consideration of ending the zone of special operations," Honess said.

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