Hill criticises PNP position on SOEs in Senate debate

Senior Staff Reporter

Monday, February 11, 2019

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GOVERNMENT Senator Aubyn Hill last Friday criticised the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) for withdrawing support for the states of emergency (SOEs), which had been introduced to fight major crimes and violence.

Senator Hill, who was speaking in the State of the Nation debate in the Upper House, said that the PNP had put temporary loss of freedom by some citizens who had been detained on suspicion by the security forces above the murder of innocent victims, and the criminal loss of lives by these citizens.

Opposition senators Lambert Brown and Sophia Fraser Binns raised points of order against the accusations, but Senate President Tom Tavares Finson said that the objections did not amount to a point of order, which would have required an explanation from Senator Hill.

“On a life and death issue, the PNP opposition withdrew its support and really exposed the weak, the vulnerable and, especially, the poor to the brutality and mayhem that criminals serve us,” Senator Hill told the Senate.

“To use their words, not my words, to use their words, they literally are trying to stop the progress with their withdrawal of support from the SOEs, which have saved many hundreds of lives of Jamaicans,” he stated.

At this point, Opposition Senator Brown contended that Senator Hill was misleading the Senate and the country.

“He is taking a slogan from some time ago when we build this country, to interject it into a situation where in 2018…,” Senator Brown said, but was interrupted by Government senators who insisted that they were waiting to hear his point of order.

Government Senator Kavan Gayle, who at this time was acting as president because Senator Tavares Finson had stepped out of the chamber, urged Brown to come to the point of order without making a speech.

“Rabble rousers, keep quiet,” Senator Brown shouted above the noise.

“Senator Brown, can you just get to the point of order,” Gayle urged him. But Brown continued calling the Government senators rabble rousers. Gayle urged Hill to resume his speech after he attempted to read out previous years' murder figures.

Hill resumed his speech, but another Opposition member, Senator Fraser Binns, rose, insisting that there was a point of order to be responded to. She asked Hill to state when the statement was made and by whom.

By this time, Tavares Finson had returned to the chamber and ruled that there was no point of order on the floor.

Hill resumed his speech, stating that one of the main reasons given by the PNP for withdrawing support for the SOEs was that the Government should replace the SOEs with an untested crime plan.

“How do Dr Phillips and the PNP quantify and decide how many Jamaican murders is an acceptable number to change from an SOE to a crime plan? What yardstick, what benchmark do they use?” Hill asked.

He said that one of the main reasons given by the PNP for withdrawing their support was that the Government was robbing Jamaicans of their freedom. Another one was the cost of the operation, $31 million per month for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and that he had heard it said that the SOEs had already accomplished enough and the country should return to “normal policing”.

“So it appears to me that the PNP and Dr Phillips took out their scales of justice, put temporary loss of freedom for some on one side, and on the other side they put murdered victims and the criminal loss of lives by law-abiding citizens and then the temporary loss of freedom clearly outweighed the numerous loss and murderous loss of lives of law-abiding citizens. So they voted to block the progress of the state of emergency,” Hill continued.

“In my calculus, the inalienable right to life and the absolutely and unquestionable intrinsic value of life far outweigh the temporary loss of freedom, as incredibly valuable as that freedom is to us,” he said.

“Life comes before freedom. Indeed, those persons who have lost their lives to criminal murders will never again enjoy freedom on this earth, where nearly all those who have been detained have regained their freedom and all detainees are still alive. Life is pre-eminently valuable,” Hill said.

Three SOEs which had been introduced by the Government as part of efforts to reduce crime and violence were ended by January 31 this year after the Opposition party withdrew support for their extension. Their support was necessary for the Government to achieve the two-thirds majority to make the SOEs constitutionally viable.

The Opposition has pointed to a 21 per cent reduction in murders islandwide as reason why the SOEs should not receive continued support.,

The SOEs were in St James, which was imposed on January 18, 2018 and ended on January 31, 2019; St Catherine North police division, imposed on March 18, 2018 and ended on January 2, 2019; and, Kingston Western and Central and St Andrew South police divisions, which was implemented on September 23, 2018 and ended on January 7.

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