Soldiers feel SOE pain

Soldiers feel SOE pain

Army personnel unhappy with elements of working conditions


Sunday, January 19, 2020

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SOLDIERS working alongside police personnel at state of emergency (SOE) checkpoints want to make a few requests to their policy boss — Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

They want an improvement in their overall working conditions, but are hesitant to say so publicly for fear of a backlash, particularly the possibility of being called crybabies.

Soldiers, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer at critical checkpoints in some sections of the island, chronicled woes in the discussions, among them the physical area in which some of them sleep.

“Tell the prime minister, if you can, that we need some good mattresses,” a young soldier told the Sunday Observer last week. “The mattress that we have to rest on, when we do our shifts, affect our backs. Some are even too small and we have to cringe up (squeeze) and we cyaan sleep good. It makes our output far less than is desired,” the soldier said.

Another posted in western Jamaica said that while they do not normally man the checkpoints when there is a heavy downpour, staying in the sun for long periods was “killing” (having harsh consequences on) them.

“Sir, the sun is wicked. We stay too long in it and it no good fi we,” the soldier stated. “One soldier, the other day, almost faint because him was in the sun all along and the sun did a bite (was very hot). We get many of our needs on time, but overall, the conditions nuh so good fi us as soldiers,” the army man said.

The soldiers also said they have an issue with the quality of the food they receive.

“People always tease us that the food that army personnel get at Up Park Camp (JDF headquarters) is not the best, but we can handle that. But sometimes the food we eat down here has no taste at all. It nuh good. Sometimes we have to throw it away,” one soldier said.

Holness, as prime minister, is also minister of defence, although the functions of the army often cross over to the Ministry of National Security, which is headed by veteran medical practitioner Dr Horace Chang, a Holness confidante who is usually placed in charge of the Government when Holness is not in Jamaica.

Efforts to reach Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) spokesman Major Basil Jarrett were unsuccessful.

Sections of this north Caribbean island have been under an SOE over the past two years, and another security initiative, the zones of special operation (ZOSO), aimed at stemming Jamaica's crime rate one of the highest in the western hemisphere has also been introduced alongside the SOE.

The ZOSO is established in communities that are deemed “trouble spots” due to the level of criminal activities in the areas. The first ZOSO was established at Mount Salem in Montego Bay, St James, in October 2016.

Soldiers, unlike police personnel and members of the Jamaica National Service Corps a practical training measure that targets young people who would have the potential to join the army or the Jamaica Constabulary Force are often posted in areas away from their homes and so have to sleep where stationed at checkpoints.

A ZOSO can be declared under the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act.

States of emergency must be approved by Parliament, which has been divided along political lines regarding their usefulness and relevance.

Although the parliamentary Opposition has been supporting the extension of SOEs in recent time, some have insisted that the measure has not been serving the purpose for which it was intended. The most vocal has been Member of Parliament Peter Bunting, a former minister of national security.

In February 2019 the Jamaica Observer published a poll it commissioned of veteran pollster Bill Johnson the month before, which found that an overwhelming majority of Jamaicans agreed with the Government's decision to declare SOEs in areas where crime is particularly bad. They also said the loss of some human rights is worth the benefit of reduced crime.

The poll found that just over 80 per cent of Jamaicans agreed with the use of the SOEs to fight crime, while 65 per cent had no problem with the loss of some human rights under the emergency measure.

At the time, data released by the Jamaica Constabulary Force showed that 353 fewer murders had been committed across the country between January 1 and December 15, 2018, when compared to the same period in 2017.

The data also showed that in St James — where the first SOE was declared on January 18, 2018 — a total of 96 murders had been committed over the period January 1 to December 15, compared to 322 for the same period in 2017, a reduction of 70.2 per cent.

In St Catherine North, where another SOE was in effect, 94 murders had been recorded for the January 1 to December 15 period, compared to 133 over the same period in 2017, a decrease of 29.3 per cent.

In the other SOE areas — Kingston Western and St Andrew South — murders decreased by 25 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively.

Last year, Jamaica experienced over 1,300 murders, and already for this year the murder toll has exceeded that over a similar period in 2019.

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