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St James SOE extended for another 3 months

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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THE House of Representatives united again Tuesday in approving extensions for the state of emergency (SOE) in St James, as well as the zones of special operations in Denham Town, Kingston, and Mount Salem, St James.

However, there were again clear signals that the Opposition does not intend to continue supporting the current measures and will be seeking an end, particularly to the SOE in St James soon.

“We are not comfortable with the state of emergency lasting for a year… It was never intended in the circumstances of the present Constitution,” Dr Peter Phillips told the House in response to Prime Minister Andrew Holness's opening statement in the debate.

Dr Phillips also conceded that the Opposition was supporting Tuesday's extension “because we don't want to leave the security forces naked at this point in time”.

He also noted that a limited number of the individuals who have been detained during the SOE have actually been charged.

However, Holness insisted that the SOE, declared in January, was still producing positive results.

He noted that the SOE had been introduced because of St James' murder rate of 182 per 100,000 citizens, which would have made the parish the “most murderous country” in the region, if it was a sovereign state.

He noted that of the 2,729 people detained since January 18, 175 had been held on various charges, including 25 for murders, 27 for shooting with intent, 13 for robberies, 10 for rape, 25 others for social offences, and 72 for lesser crimes.

“The lesson from this is, as we sit in this House and we see the numbers going down, I want every member to appreciate that the threat still exists,” Holness said.

“If we are to make a serious impact on crime, we have to break our minds toward a long-term strategy,” he added, before introducing a video on gang activities in St James to the Members of Parliament (MP).

However, Holness said that he was not ignoring concerns about the effect of SOEs on citizens, which came from inside and outside Gordon House.

He said that, in response to the concerns raised about the SOE in St James, the Government has decided to declare a special zone in Montego Bay to accommodate not just the promoters of Reggae Sumfest, but anyone who wanted to enjoy the benefits of the annual festival.

He said that he had also looked at the issues raised by Opposition MP for St Catherine North Central, Natalie Neita Headley, about the effect of the curfew on commercial activities, and would allow additional time for them to remain open.

Holness also told the House that Government was proceeding, strategically, in dealing with the issues of crime and violence across the country.

“I would say that we are now at a tipping point, and if you look at the daily numbers for murders, nationally… you will see that at the point of the declaration of the state of emergency in St James that the average daily murder (national rate) has fallen from 4.65 to 3.44,” he stated.

The current state of emergency in St James was declared on January 18, and after an initial extension of three months, which ended on May 2, a second extension was granted which ends on August 2. The extension approved Tuesday will last for three months from August 3.

The House requires a two-thirds majority, which would need the support of both Government and Opposition MPs to approve the extensions.

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