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Bunting open to being convinced to support state of emergency

Published:Wednesday | July 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Peter Bunting, opposition spokesman on national security, speaks with The Gleaner yesterday.

National Security Minister Robert Montague must make a compelling case in his Sectoral Debate presentation today if his opposition counterpart, Peter Bunting, is to be convinced that a limited state of emergency is the only option to curb a murder wave in sections of the island.

Last week's western Jamaica shootings of at least 20 people, which left nine dead, have been attributed to the deadly cocktail of guns, drugs and lottery scamming, sparking calls for the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) to police the streets, including the tourist towns.

Bunting, in an exclusive interview with The Gleaner yesterday, said he would be prepared to weigh the arguments for a limited state of emergency in crime-infested areas of the island.

"I would have to listen to the case that the Government is making as to why that state of emergency. What is it that they cannot do now under the existing Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Act and the various pieces of legislation which allow them to have curfews that they would be able to do under an state of emergency. So I would be open to that. I am open to being convinced," said Bunting.

"If the minister makes the case, if the security forces make the case, I will be prepared to listen to the case. However, we must bear in mind that a state of emergency is a last resort. If you declare a state of emergency and it does not have an impact, then what? So I am always very wary of the calls for a state of emergency," said the former minister.

According to Bunting, in 2010, as efforts were being made to locate and extradite drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the case was well made for the initial declaration and the first extension as "there was a virtual assault on the State".

"It can't be used as a normal tool of policing. It must be very exceptional circumstances. So if that case is made, I am not ruling it out," said Bunting.

According to Bunting, if Montague wants his support, he will have to explain "what the exceptional powers under the state of emergency, including the suspension of the rights and freedoms of citizens, will achieve and how will the declaration allow the security forces to do what they are unable to do now".

Responding to criticisms that he was not in support of a second extension of the state of emergency while in Opposition in 2010, he defended his position, saying the crime conditions that warranted the first state of emergency no longer existed and, therefore, there was no need for further emergency powers.

Furthermore, he said the Bruce Golding administration failed to secure the extension with a simple majority in the Lower House of Parliament.

Meanwhile, Bunting said the guns-for-drugs trade among South Florida, Haiti, Jamaica and The Bahamas provided the route for the entry of illegal high-powered weaponry into the island.

According to him, it was impossible to police the country's exclusive economic zone, which is about 100,000 square miles, almost 25 times the size of the island.

As a result, the country depended on shared information between countries to help police the country's waters.