Now not the time to lift the SOE

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

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The political rapiers have been drawn and a bitter duel is now on between the Government and Opposition over the latter's withdrawal of support for the state of public emergency (SOE).

As we stated in this space last week, had the governing Jamaica Labour Party and the Opposition People's National Party been in agreement that crime should be taken out of the political arena and sought to treat it as a national emergency around which the country should be united, there would have been no voting along party lines last week Tuesday when the Government sought a three-month extension of the SOE.

But that is the danger of Jamaica's competitive politics. It very often denies the country of measures and policies that can redound to the people's benefit as both sides, blinkered by their focus on the next election, refuse to give credit to their opponents when deserved.

So here we have the state of public emergency, a measure that, based on the declining murder toll, especially in St James, is working.

The latest police data, released on Sunday, show that 96 murders were committed in St James over the period January 1 to December 15, 2018, compared to 322 for the same period last year. That's 226 fewer murders, a massive reduction of 70.2 per cent.

In St Catherine North, where another SOE is in effect, 94 murders were recorded for the January 1 to December 15 period, compared to 133 over the same period last year, a decrease of 29.3 per cent.

The police statistics also tell us that in the other SOE areas — Kingston Western and St Andrew South — murders are down 25 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively.

Those figures, to us, suggest success. But even if anyone is sceptical about them, they need only ask people living in the areas where the SOE is in effect and where, as far as we are aware, there is more support for the measure than opposition.

The fact is that most Jamaicans are tired of cowering in fear in their houses as heartless scum armed with guns unleash terror in neighbourhoods, killing people at will and destroying property.

We were never in any doubt that the state of emergency would have to be eventually lifted. However, it is obvious to us that the measure is providing breathing space for the joint forces to improve their crime-fighting capacity.

Against that background, and the evidence of the sharp decrease in murders, it is this newspaper's firm view that now is not the time to lift the state of emergency. For as Prime Minister Andrew Holness told us in this week's Sunday Observer, the level of crime in St James now is 55 per 100,000, which is still way above the global average of six per 100,000.

That the rate in St James is coming down, from the astronomical 182 per 100,000 before the state of emergency was declared, provides some amount of encouragement. But we are clear that the security forces need more time to get the crime problem to a level that they can manage with greater efficiency and effectiveness.

What the State must ensure is that the joint forces continue to abstain from abusing people's rights and that strong evidence is legally gathered and presented against those detainees who, by virtue of their actions, need to be prosecuted.

We are also encouraged by news breaking late yesterday that Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Holness to meet in an effort to arrive at a unified position on this most serious matter.

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