Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Imani Duncan-Price | Separate hysteria from facts

Published:Sunday | December 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The two issues that dominated the public space over the past week have left many Jamaicans concerned and confused.

The concern is about the rampant corruption that is being exposed, with more revelations indicating the extent of the corruption at Petrojam, and the shameless shutdown of the parliamentary committee seeking to probe the extent of this corruption. The confusion arises from the debate around the extension of the states of emergency (SOEs), which, unfortunately, has not sufficiently separated hysteria from fact.

Let us, therefore, establish the facts with regard to the recent vote in Parliament on the extension of the states of emergency and determine the best way to proceed.

Fact 1: All the states of emergency remain in effect through to the New Year, covering Christmas. The current SOE in St James ends on January 31, 2019; St Catherine North ends on January 2, 2019; designated areas in Kingston and St Andrew end on January 7, 2019. This gives the Government enough time to adjust.

 

GRATEFUL FOR REDUCTION

 

Fact 2: In 2017, murders and wanton criminality plagued Montego Bay. Those conditions certainly warranted a state of emergency, which was declared on January 18, 2018. We are all grateful that the enhanced security measures led to a dramatic reduction in murders in the target SOE areas.

Fact 3: It is this significant reduction in murders, which tapered off after June 2018, that has led eminent lawyers to advise that the conditions required to extend a state of emergency in those areas no longer exist. That means that voting to extend those SOEs would violate the Constitution. As the Constitution is the highest law of our country, voting to extend the SOEs would be illegal. I think we can all agree that no lawmaker should break the very law they are sworn to uphold as parliamentarians.

Fact 4: The JCF Act, Clause 50, and the zones of special operations (ZOSOs) provides the Government with the powers to deploy joint forces of the JCF and JDF in communities, cordon and search, have checkpoints, and employ denial of assembly like parties and sports events. They even give the security forces the power to arrest suspects, meaning, detain people in lock-ups. However, without the SOE, they can't detain them indefinitely and deny access to the courts.

When you ask people what makes them feel safe in an SOE, they say it is "nuff police and soldier in the community" and what they can do to intervene to maintain law and order. They do not say that they are happy with random mass detention of mostly innocent people, with no recourse to the court.

The Government can consolidate the gains of the SOEs and drive even further reduction in murders using the existing laws on the books while respecting the rights of all Jamaicans.

Consequently, I expect the Government to maintain and even increase the 'boots on the ground' in those areas to ensure that people know that the country is not abandoning them. I also expect them to determine effective ways to deal with rising murder rates in Hanover, Westmoreland, and Clarendon. They have the powers, so use them. I also implore them to work to consistently improve the investigative capacity of the security forces. After all, a two per cent charge rate of detainees for serious crimes is disturbingly low. With that, it seems like we are just displacing the criminals temporarily versus actually apprehending them and locking them away.

So if those are the facts, why are some bent on creating hysteria and deliberate confusion regarding the fight against crime?

It is the combination of rampant corruption with a cynical campaign to suppress the human rights of Jamaican citizens while the connected few enjoy prosperity and flaunt their ill-gotten gains that poses the greatest threat to social stability and increases the breeding ground for crime. Indeed, the protection and respect of human rights builds public support for the fight against crime.

- Imani Duncan-Price is chief of staff for the leader of the Opposition, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Eisenhower Fellow, and former senator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and fullticipation@gmail.com.