Black Immigrant Daily News
This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the rallying calls by 15 private sector organisations and others on social media for the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) to support the extension of the states of public emergency (SOEs).
Despite the PNP senators being besieged with those calls, some of the usual on-and-off political blame game from Government senators and other supporters of such crime measures, they voted not to extend the SOEs on Friday.
It also did not help that Government Senator Aubyn Hill was accused of referring to Opposition members of “supporting criminals” during the debate. He strenuously denied making the statement, but eventually “withdrew” in the “interest of peace” and the importance of the debate.
With the motion failing to get two-thirds majority in the Senate, where one Opposition member had to join the Government senators in supporting it, for the SOEs to not expire on Monday, November 28.
The move by the Mark Golding-led PNP has resulted in more stinging criticisms of the political organisation, especially from Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters and those demanding that the SOEs remain in place to “save lives”. That was notably a slogan that was heavily utilised in the campaign to drum up support for the emergency security crime tool in the days leading up to the crucial Senate vote.
In reacting to the decision of the Opposition senators, Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Friday said he was not “surprised” by their actions, as there were signs from early that the PNP would not support the extension.
“There is no question whatsoever about the effectiveness of the tool (SOEs). Contrary to what they (the Opposition) have tried to position in the minds of Jamaicans, the state of public emergency is constitutional, and no court has ruled otherwise, and therefore, the tool is lawful, and it is effective,” declared Holness.
Before all of that, however, his announcement of SOEs in the parishes of St James, Westmoreland, Hanover, St Catherine, Clarendon, and sections of Kingston and St Andrew on Tuesday, November 15 was in response to the high level of murders and criminality locally.
When he went to the House of Representatives one week after declaring the measure, to seek an extension until January 14, 2023, Holness said 12 murders were recorded in Jamaica over the week of November 13 to 19.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (file photo)
That, said Holness, represented the lowest number of killings to have been recorded in a week this year, and the lowest one-week total since 2015.
The prime minister, while insisting that SOEs save lives, said the significant reduction in murders between November 13 and 19 was achieved despite the fact that only five of those days were under the SOEs.
“This is consistent with what we have come to expect under a state of emergency,” he remarked.
With Jamaica having one of the highest murder rates in the world at more than 40 per 100,000, Holness has signalled that a minimum sentence of 30 years is on the cards for those who are found guilty of murderously taking a life.
Holness told the House that similar to the more punitive Firearms Act that took effect in October, and which prescribes sentences of 15 years to life, the law relevant to murders is to be amended to prescribe harsher sentences.
Continuing, the prime minister said: “My thoughts on the matter, though not yet finalised, and the thinking, is that we should give 30 years minimum for murder.”
He said Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has been directed to bring forward considerations. However, those amendments to the penalty of murder will come early next year.
Despite Holness’ opining that SOEs “save lives” and outlining other measures to address crime in the long run, Opposition Leader Mark Golding would not give his support to the former.
In defending his decision, Golding pointed to two separate court rulings have seriously questioned the constitutional legitimacy of the use of SOEs.
“As it stands today (Tuesday), the courts have cast doubt on the constitutionality of the Government’s use of SOE procedure, and in that context, it is in my view highly inappropriate and a disregard for the cardinal constitutional principle of respecting the separation of powers among the three branches of the state… for the Government to continue using the SOE in this way,” Golding contended.
The PNP president also took issue with the Government for not allowing the Opposition to assess the regulations governing the SOEs before they were gazetted.
“So when you call on me and the Opposition to come on board, don’t treat us in that disrespectful and disregarding way,” Golding told Holness.
“I cannot support the extension of the SOEs beyond 14 days. The society has grown tired of the SOEs,” he declared.
In the end, the measure was approved with the votes of 44 members of the Government only, as Opposition members refused to support the motion.
With signs that the Opposition senators could take a similar decision as their counterparts in the House of Representatives, a total of 15 private sector groups called on the PNP to give it’s full support for the SOEs to remain in place until early next year.
In a joint release sent by the PSOJ of Thursday, the organisations said there is data to show that the SOEs have been effective in curtailing some amount of serious crimes, especially murders, and urged the Senate to allow the extension of the present SOEs until January 14, 2023, when the debate on the matter would come up in the Upper House on last Friday.
In laying out its rationale for the call, the organisations referenced a number of factors and circumstances that they said warrant an extension of the emergency measures.
Keith Duncan, President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ).
“Jamaicans across the length and breadth of the country are living in a state of fear and anxiety, and consider the crime situation a chronic crisis. While the use of SOEs to contain the current surge of crime and violence is not a long-term solution, it has demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing murders.
“We recommend that these emergency measures be employed over the Christmas period, as a surge in criminal activities is the norm during this time as criminal elements look to rob, extort and murder to increase ill-gotten gains.
“The leadership of the JCF and JDF recommended the extension of SOEs to mitigate the loss of lives.
“This temporary measure, we anticipate, will ease the constant bloodletting, and enable law-abiding citizens to enjoy the holiday season,” the private sector interests outlined as reasons for the SOEs to remain.
But Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) called for senators to reject the request for an extension of the states of emergency (SOE), arguing that the measure is unconstitutional.
In further calling on the senators on both sides of the political aisle to reject the request for the SOEs, JFJ asserted that the “reasons given by Government simply do not meet constitutional threshold for a state of emergency to be declared.
“Government must be held accountable to implement lawful and constitutional means of addressing crime.
“We must reject the deflection of using (SOEs) in lieu of the Government’s failure to provide the people of Jamaica with a comprehensive strategy to fight crime. We must reject the approach that Government must break the law to uphold it,” argued JFJ.
During the Senate debate on the SOE motion on Friday, Opposition Senator Donna Scott-Motley said the PNP is willing to pay the political price for not supporting the extension of the security measure, arguing that her colleagues voted by their conscience.
As the debate neared its conclusion, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, through his Twitter account, made one last minute attempt to get at least one PNP senator to vote for the extension.
“The Opposition refuses to prioritise Jamaican lives ahead of politics, despite several calls from across society for the SOEs to be extended.
“I am making another appeal to Opposition members in the Senate to vote for an extension of the emergency measures. SOEs save lives,” Holness tweeted.
Across social media, the SOE debate was largely contentious between those defending the Opposition’s stance and those opposing it.
“The PNP’s lack of support for the SOE strategy has always been clear. They cannot continue to support measures that would reduce violent crimes, as that would mean an end to their Jamaica House dreams,” opined Twitter user, @stbessgirl.
In response to those remarks, Twitter user, @OnPointPress_, said: “Don’t be ridiculous. Advocating for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, which the PNP will always do, doesn’t preclude the elected Gov’t from using SOEs.
“The Opposition support is not required for SOEs. You know that. Anju knows that. All Showa Posse Labourites know that,” she added.
Said attorney-at-law Gavin Goffe on Twitter: “The PNP’s position is that SOEs in general and these SOE regulations in particular, are unconstitutional.
“This is consistent with what the Supreme Court has said. They can’t backtrack on that because private sector and civil society groups have not stopped to considered that part.”
In a follow-up tweet Goffe stated: “Rather than using a ZOSO (Zone of Special Operation), which is more effective at reducing crime, the JLP still announced an SOE, well aware that the PNP would not support it on constitutional grounds.
“Who is playing politics?” he questioned.
Shared @CaroleBeckford: “SOE, ZOSO and any kind of curfew etc should be coordinated with active, strategic policing in collaboration with social programmes geared at saving, restoring and uplifting communities. One method is simply a band aid. It is not working.”
Also on Twitter, political commentator Kevin O’Brien Chang questioned: “Since states of emergency as currently being implemented are clearly not unconstitutional, what principle is the PNP defending by not supporting the SOE extension?”
Kevin O’Brien Chang
Chang followed up by further enquiring, “Where did this crazy idea that SOEs are unconstitutional come from?
“They could not be implemented if they are.
“Illogical propaganda that makes no sense.
“As far as I am aware, the one element ruled unconstitutional is no longer used.”
In response to the SOE not being extended, Facebook user, Angela Rosa Lee, wrote: “Let’s hope this decision by the Opposition to vote against the extension of the SOE will not come to haunt us.”
Sancia Jones posted: “Jamaican people lives are a game to the PNP. Jamaican people are always collateral damage when PNP acts.”
But Kim Harris disagreed with those critics of the PNP, and suggested that, “SOE’s only lead to long line in traffic, and the gunmen nuh pass through spot checks.
“I agree with the PNP this time; find another crime-fighting method man, ’cause a unnu seh wi can sleep with wi windows and doors open,” she indic