Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness (FILE)
KINGSTON – The Jamaica Parliament has approved a 90-day extension of the state of emergency (SOE) in the western parishes of Hanover, St James and Westmoreland as it continues to deal with the crime situation in the country.
House of Representatives Tuesday night approved the extension by a 44 to one margin with former national security minister, Peter Bunting voting against the measure. The other 18 members were absent when the vote was taken after a lengthy debate.
“We will not block this extension. The situation has to be put under control for the sake of law-abiding Jamaican people, but let me make it clear, there will be no repeat of last year,” Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips told Parliament.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness had contended that discontinuing the original SOE sent the wrong signal to criminals.
“The extraordinary level of violent crimes in Jamaica has been a feature of our society for far too long, and while it has impaired our development for decades, the greatest cost to our nation has been the many lives that have been lost,” said Holness.
He said he had the highest regard for the judgment of the leaders of the security forces, whose advice he had sought before asking the Governor General Sir Patrick Allen to declare the SOE on April 30.
Holness told the Parliament that the extremely high rates of violent criminal activity are of such a nature and on such an extensive scale that it endangers public safety, and hence the need for the special security measure now in place.
“The citizens of western Jamaica have fully endorsed the granting of additional powers to the security forces to save their lives, and this, likewise, must compel us to endorse the request for an extension,” Holness said.
But Phillips, who last month had called on the government to outline a long term anti-crime measure to deal with the rising crime situation, said “the fact that after one year of that state of emergency, the rate of murders has reached this level again is not so much an indication of the need for a continuing state of emergency, as much as it is an indication that we effectively failed in the period when there was a state of emergency to put the necessary arrangement in place”.
The Opposition Leader then outlined demands that he said were vital to the continued support of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) legislators for the SOE, including a 100 per cent increase in guns and ammunitions seized, a balance in treatment for small businesses and big businesses during SOE (same opening hours), and for the passing of legislation for enhanced security measures, after consulting with the Opposition on the detailed proposals.
Phillips said that there was also a need for the government to amend the zones of special operations legislation, where needed, and put a DNA database in place.
Prior to the announcement of the SOE late last month, Police Commissioner Anthony Anderson noted that since the start of the year Westmoreland recorded the most murders per 100 000 with 29 followed by St James with 27 and Hanover with 18.
Last December, the government failed to get support for extension of state of emergency after opposition legislators voted against the measure the government said was necessary to curtail crime and violence across the island.
As a result the state of emergency in St James, which was declared in January 2018, came to an end in January this year. (CMC)