Parliament approves SOE extension
The House of Representatives voted for a 90-day extension of the state of emergency (SOE) in St James, Westmoreland and Hanover after an extended session that ended after 8 o’clock last night. Forty-four members of parliament voted in favour of the extension and one against. Eighteen members were absent for the vote.
The extension was supported in principle by both government and opposition members, who argued that the special security measure was needed to curtail the uptick in murder since the start of the year.
“We will not block this extension. The situation has to be put under control for the sake of law-abiding Jamaican people, but let me make it clear, there will be no repeat of last year,” Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips said in reference to SOEs that received several extensions last year.
Murders in St James have skyrocketed by 70 per cent over the similar period of January to April 28 last year, following the end of the yearlong SOE in the parish in January.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness said discontinuing the original SOE sent the wrong signal to criminals.
“The extraordinary level of violent crimes in Jamaica has been a feature of our society for far too long, and while it has impaired our development for decades, the greatest cost to our nation has been the many lives that have been lost,” said Holness.
He noted that the extremely high rates of violent criminal activity are of such a nature and on such an extensive scale that it endangers public safety, and hence the need for the special security measure now in place.
There are 56 active gangs operating in the three-parish geographical area now under the SOE. Seventeen of them currently at war over turf.
“The citizens of western Jamaica have fully endorsed the granting of additional powers to the security forces to save their lives, and this, likewise, must compel us to endorse the request for an extension,” Holness said.
“The fact that after one year of that state of emergency, the rate of murders has reached this level again is not so much an indication of the need for a continuing state of emergency, as much as it is an indication that we effectively failed in the period when there was a state of emergency to put the necessary arrangement in place,” Phillips charged.
He made demands that he said were vital to the continued support of the Opposition for such a measure, including a 100 per cent increase in guns and ammunitions seized, a balance in treatment for small businesses and big businesses during SOE (same opening hours), and for the passing of legislation for enhanced security measures, after consulting with the Opposition on the detailed proposals.
The opposition leader also said that the Government should amend the zones of special operations legislation, where needed, and put a DNA database in place.