Thursday 6 August, 2020

TIME COME! Phillips urges Holness back to the table on crime

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips (left), and Prime Minister Andrew Holness exchanging pleasantries at a national event.

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips (left), and Prime Minister Andrew Holness exchanging pleasantries at a national event.

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, wants the long-promised, anti-crime meeting of stakeholders, including the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), the church and others, to be immediately convened to “hammer out a national consensus against crime and violence”.

Phillips’ call comes three months after the meeting was scheduled to have been held.

The stakeholders’ meeting was originally scheduled for January 16 to “advance matters of national consensus”. It was agreed to following the January 2 face-to-face meeting between Phillips and Prime Minister Andrew Holness after a much publicised war-of-words between them.

This came after the parliamentary Opposition’s withdrawal of support for three states of emergency (SOE) that were a major plank in the Government’s national crime-fighting strategies.

The SOEs were imposed across several parishes in 2018, to rein in rampant crime, particularly murders.

At one point it was uncertain whether the stakeholder meetings would take place, as both sides publicly accused the other of politicising crime.

But now Phillips is calling for the talks to resume within an unclear context, but not without seeming political calculations. This is as there has been the widely publicised viewpoint that the country on a whole, and much of the stakeholder groupings which had called for continued support of the SOEs earlier in the year, have not accepted the Opposition’s unilateral stance on the matter.

The party’s popularity, including that of Phillips himself, has been consequently seriously affected in a negative way.

“There is need for a national consensus about this issue, which is without doubt one of the most serious problems that we face as a country. The private sector has already agreed. We the Opposition have agreed, and other groups have agreed,” Dr Phillips said Tuesday in the House of Representatives.

He was speaking on two motions moved by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and approved by the House, which effectively extended the Zones of Special Operation (ZOSOs) in Denham Town, West Kingston and Mount Salem, St James.

Phillips also welcomed the announcement by Holness on Tuesday that more zones will be declared shortly. He noted that the Opposition had been advocating for the increase and broadening of this crime-fighting mechanism to stem what he described as the “scourge that continues to wreak havoc on communities in Clarendon, Westmoreland, Hanover, Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine and other parts of the island.”

Phillips also noted that a “high level of crime has been a persistent feature of our social reality, with the murder rate having almost doubled every decade since Independence.

The realities behind the brutal killing of Shante Skyers of Sterling Castle, St Andrew appear to have been among the turning points for Phillip's decision.

“While we deal with the ZOSO, the only long-term solution is to take the criminals off the streets, and we know who they are, based on utterances by the Government and the security forces after the end of the states of emergency. If we need legislative enhancement to get this done, we should do it,” Phillips said.

The Opposition Leader also expressed “deep sadness” at the brutal murder of seven-year-old Shante Skyers in Sterling Castle, St Andrew.

“Once again, this signals the levels of savagery that have overtaken so many areas of Jamaican life. The cases of domestic violence, the drive-by shootings in several communities, the killing of our children, and this blood thirst needs more than just a sprinkling of Zones of Special Operation or the scraping up of thousands of young men without charge unconstitutionally.

“It is time we seriously bring together the stakeholders and agree on a national approach that will be both far-reaching and sustainable,” said Phillips.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There has been a seeming discrepancy over the age of Shante Skyers – eight or seven years – which the Corporate Communications Unit (CCU) of the police force has clarified and established as seven years, having initially issued material stating she was eight.

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