Gov't takes steps to relax opening hours for businesses in SOEs

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 20, 2018

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MINISTER of National Security Dr Horace Chang says that the Government has been taking steps to reduce strict business curfews created in the two states of emergency (SOEs) operating in Jamaica.

Dr Chang was following up on an announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the start of Tuesday's debate on extending the SOE in St James in the House of Representatives.

According to the minister, while the regulations remain in place, businesses such as clubs and restaurants can be allowed to follow their normal opening hours, which are between 6:00 am and 2:00 am.

He said that for the period July 15-22, an entertainment district is to be opened in the area where Reggae Sumfest is being held, that will allow for more liberal opening hours when major events are being held.

“It will put pressure on the police, but it also indicates how we can operate and ensure that the events can continue on a normal basis. So, while we have to maintain the characteristics of the state of emergency, we will allow commanders who have proven to be efficient, professional and capable to manage the areas within a normal framework,” Dr Chang stated.

Prime Minister Holness had indicated previously that he had heard the complaints about the effects of the curfew times on businesses in the SOEs, and had agreed that there was a need to relax the rules, especially during Reggae Sumfest.

“We thought that it was necessary to declare a special zone within the St James area, which would accommodate not just the promoters of Sumfest, but anyone who earns a living from the festival,” he argued.

“So there should be some improvement and increased consideration for the concerns of the citizens in these areas, including North Central St Catherine police division,” he stated.

Dr Chang had also expressed confidence that the relocation of a division of the Mobile Reserve from Up Park Camp to Montego Bay, as Mobile Reserve West, would reduce the need for recruiting up to 700 officers to operate in the SOE.

He said that not only was the current drafting of officers to operate in the SOEs affecting the complement based in other areas, but it was also a drain on the available resources as accommodation has to be rented in an area where cost is influenced by tourism.

However, he said that he expects that the western division of the virtually paramilitary Mobile Reserve will ease that situation.

He said that the need for a high police presence in St James was critical and was growing even moreso with the expansion of the tourism industry. He noted, too, that there were more than 20,000 people employed in the Freeport area alone.

“The demand for increased police servicing is critical and we intend to deal with that,” he assured the House of Representatives.

He congratulated the security forces for behaving in a professional manner within the SOE. However, he insisted that the time was not ripe to curtail the activities of the security forces.

Chang said that violence is endemic in Jamaica, especially in sections of the country like St James and the Corporate Area, and when this exists it takes time to remove it.

“You can get it under control but to ensure that it does not recur quickly, [it demands] intense, continued activity to deal with the causes of the problem,” he stated.

He said that part of the problem the country is facing is the loss of confidence in the security forces, which is hindering the investigative arm of the police in accumulating evidence against the perpetrators of crime.

He said that citizens have become afraid of retaliation and feel that the security forces are not in a position to protect them.

“Therefore, we have to take time to establish, in the minds of the citizens, that the Government and the security forces have now taken action to protect them, and restore a level of law and order in their communities,” he said.

He added that was key to the continuation of the SOEs and the zones of special operations.

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