Clash over crime - Angry MPs battle over fearmongering accusations
Parliament descended into chaos yesterday as National Security Minister Peter Bunting used a ministerial statement to denounce Opposition Leader Andrew Holness for claiming on the weekend that re-electing the People's National Party (PNP) administration could leave Jamaicans more vulnerable to violent crime.
Accusing Holness of fearmongering, Bunting declared the Opposition leader's behaviour "unbecoming of someone who aspires to the highest political office".
During his presentation, Bunting was accused by angered opposition members of disrespecting Holness, and House Speaker Michael Peart was at one point forced to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes so parliamentarians could cool down.
On the weekend, Holness told party supporters that "if you keep the PNP in power, the truth is that you could lose your life ... the truth is that the next murder victim could be you".
In Parliament yesterday, Bunting said Holness' remarks at a political rally in Hanover were "unfortunate and inflammatory".
"This is an unfortunate departure from the standards of public comment on an issue of such grave importance," said Bunting.
"To further suggest that citizens would be risking their lives in voting against the Jamaica Labour Party is taking the politicisation of crime to a new low. This behaviour is unbecoming of someone who aspires to the highest political office."
But with 1,045 people murdered in Jamaica up to yesterday, Derrick Smith, the opposition spokesman on national security, said, "It's dangerous out there.
"When you leave here and are going anywhere, the probability is that you will never get to your final destination," Smith said, charging that a Jamaican is killed every 7.5 hours.
The increase in murders represents a 23 per cent jump over last year when 1,005 people were killed.
Smith, a chairman of Parliament's Internal and External Affairs Committee, has summoned Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams to Gordon House to explain his anti-crime strategy.
Bunting said yesterday that he would prefer if that meeting were held in camera or conducted in such a way as to protect the public servants from politicking.
But Holness said the national security minister was being hypocritical when calling for cooperation to help bring down crime levels.
"You better, as national security minister, stop this nonsense about telling people about it is our responsibility and that nationally we must join together," Holness said. "When I was leader of government business, I came to you, Mr Bunting, and I sat with you, when this nation had the greatest opportunity to bring crime under control. I came to you and I sat with you and I said to you, 'Join us'."
He said that had the 2010 state of emergency been continued in St Catherine, the country would have been able to "deal with one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in Jamaica, and you refused".
The reference was to the Clansman gang, which is said to be affiliated with the PNP.
"Had we done that, we would have uprooted the most dangerous criminal gang in Jamaica and today Jamaica would have benefited," Holness said.
Yesterday, the opposition leader told The Gleaner: "I don't believe the execution of the state of emergency in anyway significantly impeded the rights of people."