20 ZOZOs don't seem to be around the corner

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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It appears that the Government will not be creating 20 more zones of special operations (ZOSO) any time soon.

That is the understanding of Inside Parliament regarding the introduction of this new strategic measure, as pronounced over the last 12 months in Parliament by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

In fact, from his very first presentation on the subject Holness had pointed out on each occasion that the security forces had already identified the 20 communities considered to be in need of ZOSO treatment. However, on each occasion he has noted that the Government does not have the necessary resources to step up the current pace of introducing them.

Responding to Opposition Member of Parliament Julian Robinson in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Holness said that the current two ZOSOs — Mount Salem in St James and Denham Town in Kingston — are test cases, which the Government and the security forces have had a year and a month to study. However, he cautioned that it takes serious planning and increased human resources and budgetary allocations to add more ZOSOs.

“We don't want to go out and implement a ZOSO that is not adequately funded…I have said, in this House on many occasions, that we have identified so far 20 communities, and they are dispersed all over. It is being worked out as we speak, both the finances and how to increase the improvement in both [arms of]the security forces — the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force — so that we have the manpower to deal with those areas”.

K D Knight breaches consensus on SOEs

Does Senator K D Knight's decision to abstain from the vote on the extension of the current state of emergency (SOE) in St James, in the Senate on Friday, signal the end of the cooperation between the Government and the Opposition on current crime strategies?

On Friday, Knight not only expressed his criticism of the SOE strategy, but also explained that he would not vote for the following reason:

“Having heard the presentations from each senator and having heard alternative views being given, which have not received any indication at all that those views will even be considered, I am abstaining”.

Senator Knight made the declaration when he was called upon to vote on The Emergency Powers (Continuance) (No 4) Resolution, 2018.

The resolution required a two-thirds majority vote to allow the state of emergency in St James, which was declared on January 18 by the governor general, to remain in force for a further three months to January 31, 2109, and the Emergency Powers Regulations to continue in force until then.

At the start of the process conducted by the clerk, Opposition member, Senator Lambert Brown asked for time to consider whether he should vote or abstain.

“How much time do we have to vote? Each of us, because I would like to contemplate what I have heard here when my name is called…Do I have a minute, do I have two minutes, do I have time?” Brown asked.

But, president of the Senate, Thomas Tavares-Finson insisted that all that was required was for him to simply vote “aye” or “nay” on the extension.

Senator Brown accused the Leader of Government Business, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, of being divisive in her response to the presentations from the Opposition.

By this time the clerk had already called Senator Brown's name, but had informed him that she would come back to him at the end of her poll.

This, apparently, gave the Opposition senator enough time to reflect and, by the time the clerk asked him again, he responded that he would “reluctantly” support the resolution.

In the meantime, Senator Knight rose and argued that he needed time to explain why he would not vote. He insisted that the standing orders allowed time for a member to explain why his decision to abstain.

“Every member has had an opportunity to explain how he intends to vote. And, in fact, you indicated earlier how you were going to abstain, and you spoke in that tone,” Tavares-Finson reminded him.

But Knight insisted that although he could not recall the specific standing order, he was aware that it gives the person a chance to explain why he would abstain.

Tavares-Finson, eventually, informed Knight that the rule is that he could be allowed to explain his decision but not with a lengthy contribution as he had already spoken in the debate.

Senator Johnson Smith contributed that every member of the Senate is entitled to their vote.

“When you are appointed to this House, you have the honour and the privilege to apply your vote. I will only say that the woman in my mirror is crystal clear that we must those little girls on the edge of puberty from being summoned by any 'don', any gang. We must protect the youngster who wants to go down to HEART to train in welding or hospitality or construction — or whatever skill that he feels is going to give him a better life — and provide him with a stepping stone for his family,” she commented.

However, she said it was quite clear that although the strategic measures have attained some success, the process is not yet where the Government wants it to be.

The other four Opposition senators – Leader of Opposition Business, Donna Scott Mottley, Wensworth Skeffery, Damion Crawford, and Brown voted with the 13 Government members present to provide the two-thirds majority needed to approve the extension, at 17 “ayes”, three absentees, and one abstention.

The three Opposition members absent were Senators Floyd Morris — the former Senate president, Sophia Binns and Noel Sloley.

However, while the extension was approved, it is obvious that there is growing dissent among the Opposition members against any further extensions.

The threat to the consensus

Friday's events in the Senate came only days after Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressed his hope, in the House of Representatives, that both sides would be able to maintain the consensus that has been driving the process in Parliament.

Holness told the House of Representatives, during its debate on extending SOE on Tuesday, that the measure must be seen for what it is — a high homicide rate, which is abnormal, and which has created an emergency situation.

“Unfortunately, there are those who would want to characterise it as the new normal. But, it is not normal to have the homicide rate that we have. Countries that are at war and having civil strife have far lower homicide rates than we do,” Holness argued.

“So I see this as an emergency, a national emergency that the Government must act with speed, alacrity, deliberateness, instrumentality and decisiveness to bring this problem under control,” he went on.

He said that his Government has not treated the homicide situation in Jamaica as “business as usual”.

“We must give the security forces their legislative tools but, more importantly, we must give them the political support for them to do their jobs,” the prime minister said.

Reacting to the issue of whether the SOEs were intended to be indefinite, Holness said:

“The use of enhanced security measures is not indefinite. At each opportunity, before members opposite (Opposition) raise their points, I wish to raise it as well: It is not an indefinite tool. We accept that, bearing in mind, however, yes the use of the state of emergency is always meant to be a very quick and decisive response to major problems — whether it is natural disasters or an upsurge in violence. But there are cases where the concept of a state of emergency has been used for significant periods of times to deal with specific issues,

“At this point, however, we should not be asking how long, because we would be giving away something that we find very useful, and that is the strategic intention of the Government.”

Holness claimed that the SOEs and the ZOSOs have increased public confidence in the security forces', as well as the security forces capacity to bring a focused approach to dealing with crime and violence.

However, the prime minister was obviously concerned about maintaining the consensus in Parliament.

“I have brought to this Parliament a very frequent timetable to discuss the issue of crime and, at the end of all the debates, even rigorous and robust debates, we have come up with a consensus on how to proceed.

“It is a very difficult task building consensus, but I believe that the most valuable benefit of the debates is that we come up with a consensus against criminals,” he added.

Parliament schedule for this week:

Tuesday, October 23 at 10 am: - Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee meets to discuss its report on the Construction Industry Policy.

Tuesday October 23 at 2:00 pm: - Sitting of the House of Representatives

Wednesday, October 24 at 9:00 am: – Joint Select Committee to review and report on “the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, 2014, also known as the Anti-Gang Legislation , and will have its preliminary meeting under the chairmanship of Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang.

Wednesday, October 24, at 2:00 pm: - the Internal and External Affairs Committee will meet on the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA).

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