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Vote against SOE does not mean security forces have to be removed — PNP

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The People's National Party (PNP) says its vote to end the states of public emergency (SOEs) in St James, St Catherine North, and sections of Kingston and St Andrew does not mean that the security forces have to be removed from the areas.

“Not one police officer or military personnel has to be moved from St James after expiration of the SOE,” the Opposition party said on Twitter this morning.

“Police can still curfew, cordon, search and arrest suspects. The only difference is they will not be able to detain indiscriminately and indefinitely,” the party contended.

After a lengthy debate, which lasted past 10 o'clock last night in Gordon House, the full complement of 33 ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Members of Parliament (MPs) voted to extend the measure by another three months, but the 20 Opposition MPs present voted against an extension.

The government needed a two-third majority of the 63 MPs to make thecrime fighting measure remain constitutionally legal.

With the Opposition voting against the extension, it means that the St James SOE will terminate on January 31, 2019, while the emergency powers will cease to apply for St Catherine North on January 2 and sections of the Corporate Area on January 7.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a very emotional address last night, pleaded with the Opposition to give the SOEs more time, noting that the security forces have reported a reduction in serious and violent crimes islandwide between January 1 and December 9, 2018.

“Murders are down 21.7 per cent, shootings are down 21.4 per cent, rape down 12.2 per cent, aggravated assault down 11 per cent. Additionally, there have been significant reductions in the year-to-date reports of murders across several police divisions, the most notable being St. James, where there has been more than a 70 per cent reduction in murders,” he said.

The prime minister noted that while these gains have had a positive impact, there is a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done.

However, Leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, argued that a State of Public Emergency was never considered to be used as a “routine crime measure”.

“We don't need a state of emergency to continue the reductions that have been achieved,” he argued.

Holness, in response, pointed out that the Government has been very clear that using the tool of an SOE “is not a sustainable long-term measure to fight crime”.

“If it were an issue that the Government is saying 'we are not going to end and we are going to go on forever' I could understand the posture. We do have a plan not to continue the use of the States of Public Emergency, but I have gone to great lengths here to say that I cannot give away the strategic intent of the Government by saying when,” he said.

He told the House that the request for the continuation of the SOEs was made by the security forces.

“I didn't come here on my own volition and understanding. There is a team of well-qualified Jamaicans in the security field who have advised, and ultimately, on the recommendation of the Commissioner of Police and Chief of Defence Staff, they signed letters saying…'in light of the foregoing we request the extension of the State of Public Emergency in St. James for a further 90 days'. I don't come here on my own,” Holness argued.

The Constitution provides that a period of public emergency can be declared by Proclamation if the Governor-General is satisfied that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger public safety.

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