Mon | Feb 24, 2020

Update | Police SOE budget tops half a billion - Hotel stays, food eat into lion’s share of funding

Published:Thursday | January 23, 2020 | 12:22 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter

Almost 70 per cent of the estimated $505 million budgeted to maintain states of emergency (SOE) during fiscal year 2019-20 has already been spent on meals and hotel accommodation as the Government has dug deep to finance police operations.

As at December 2019, three months before the end of the fiscal year, taxpayers had already paid out more than $352 million to maintain the security crackdown that has been imposed in St James, Hanover, Westmoreland, Clarendon, St Catherine, and in the St Andrew South Police Division.

“The increase per unit for meal is a significant contributing factor to the budget,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke during a Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meeting at Parliament yesterday.

Approximately $168 million was spent on meals up to December 31 while hotel accommodation cost taxpayers $184 million. Total spend, including other items, topped $392 million.

“From a financial standpoint, we have several deployments from Kingston to the western end to support operations there, and these are specifically specialised operations,” said DeVaughn Colquhoun, director of management accounts at the Ministry of National Security, in defence of the need for hotel accommodations.

The figures do not represent allocations to the Jamaica Defence Force.

cauterise violence

But even as questions continue to arise regarding the effectiveness of the SOE, Deputy Police Commissioner Fitz Bailey said that it would be more difficult to curtail crime without the so-called enhanced security measure.

“We have used other things in the past, curfews, but there are limitations,” he said.

“The intention of the SOE is to cauterise violence. It is not necessarily to stop crime. We operate the SOE with all other types of police activities, including investigations,” he noted.

It was revealed that the Enhanced Security Measures legislation that would provide the police with an alternative to SOE powers has been placed on the back burner. Instead, acting chief technical director in the Ministry of National Security Delroy Simpson said that other pieces of legislation have taken priority.

“Certainly, at this point in time, it is not [a priority]. However, it is part of the legislative agenda to come up with that type of legislation,” Simpson said.

A surprised PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill said he thought the government had been actively seeking to pass that legislation.

“There was an agreement when the first state of emergency came about where we had indicated that they [the Government] would find and they would get support about amending the legislation so that we could find an in-between because many persons are not comfortable with the state of emergency, but find that there is no alternative,” said McNeill.

The disclosure infuriated Opposition Spokesman on National Security Fitz Jackson, who believes that the legislation has been too long in coming.

“If national security is the number one challenge that faces the country and you have sought to institute states of emergency, which is the most extreme legal instrument in the security architecture, and over two years you have not sought to advance those pieces of legislation, what else is more important to Jamaica than the security, issue and you have not touched that yet?” he fumed.

Despite SOEs being implemented in seven of 19 police divisions islandwide, Jamaica recorded more than 1,300 murders in 2019. SOEs have largely suppressed murders and shootings in some zones such as Westmoreland and Hanover, but St James and the St Andrew South Police Division recorded higher homicides in 2019 than the prior year. Violent crime has also spiked in other areas of the country, particular in metro divisions such as Kingston Eastern and Kingston Central.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story had indicated that the total spend on meals and accommodation was $392 million. The aggregated figure was $352 million, representing almost 70 per cent of the budget. Spending on other services brought the figure to $392 million.