Parliament gives nod to SOE extension
KINGSTON – Jamaican legislators put aside their differences on Tuesday night and approved a further three-month extension of the state of public emergency (SOE) in St James.
The measure goes to the Senate on Wednesday for debate.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness had earlier appealed to the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) legislators to provide the necessary parliamentary majority needed to extend the SOE, telling parliamentarians the fear of crime among St James residents had been reduced during the state of emergency, which has now been extended to August 2.
Holness said that between January 1 and April 30, there were 62 fewer murders than in the corresponding period last year. The most recent data showed 133 persons had been arrested and charged, with 22 for murder, under the SOE.
But Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips said “the data that I have say that until the third week of April, 1,939 persons were detained.
“One hundred and seventeen charged for major offences, including shooting and murder, but that is six per cent of the total number of people detained end up being charged,” he added.
Phillips criticised the security forces’ strategy of “gathering up young men from poor communities” and gradually processing them, saying it would worsen the relationship between the police and the communities.
“It deepens that divide over the long term, and we have gone this road before with the Suppression of Crimes Act,” Phillips argued.
In his contribution, Prime Minister Holness said he took it as his duty “to protect the rights of every single Jamaican citizen, and I just want to make it absolutely clear.
“It is important that the public understands, the Church understands, and all the other stakeholders understand that the detentions are not done arbitrarily,” he said, adding that the actions of the police in conducting the detentions are guided by rules.
Prime Minister Holness noted that the process starts with the preparation of the hotspots, which is paired with the intelligence data available to the security forces on people in the areas.
“The police also use existing records of outstanding warrants. Quite a number of persons were detained based on the fact that they have outstanding warrants. The warrants were there for their arrests, the police simply couldn’t find them,” Holness explained.
He said that with the enhanced security measures available under the SOE, the security forces are able to locate and identify these individuals, and, in addition, have prepared offenders’ lists, with the names of people known to be involved in crime, including repeat offenders.
“It is not a wanton use of the extraordinary powers that they have, and so I want to assure the nation that this Administration has ensured that the extraordinary powers given to the security forces are not used in an arbitrary way,” he said.
The House of Representatives in January approved the extension of the State of Public Emergency in St. James until May 2 and last month extended the measure in St. Catherine North Police until July 3.
The PNP said that it would not be supporting the extension unless there’s “some overwhelming reason presented for the consideration of the public.”
But Phillips assured legislators that the resolution would have the Opposition support even as he said “quite frankly, I think we need to recognise the gravity of the decision that we are being asked to make”.
Phillips said that the Opposition had some concerns regarding the changes made to the resolution and acknowledged the call from Prime Minister Holness for both sides of the House to unite on the issue of crime. (CMC)