Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Holness warns back-to-back SOEs not off the table

Published:Monday | November 28, 2022 | 12:10 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Jamaica Labour Party leader Andrew Holness addresses journalists during a press conference at the party’s Belmont Road headquarters on Sunday.

With less than 48 hours before the collapse of states of emergency (Sue's) in seven parishes, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has warned that if there is heightened threat to public safety, the Government will not shy away from declaring a new security crackdown.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang suggested that the administration was not eager to reimpose the measure unilaterally – though constitutionally legal to do so – because that action might contravene good governance in seeking consensus from the Opposition, which has refused to give the single Senate vote for its extension.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown appeared, in his Upper House presentation last Friday, to goad the Government to go it alone, emphasising that the Opposition could only block extensions but not the declaration of a new round of emergency measures.

But as the clock ticks towards the expiration of the 14-day SOEs at midnight Tuesday, Holness hinted that the Government would not be handcuffed by the Opposition's parliamentary resistance.

“The question has been asked, 'Why not call another state of public emergency?' That has to be considered carefully. I would say it is not off the table, but we will consider it very carefully,” Holness, who is also leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), said at the party's Belmont Road headquarters on the margins of a Central Executive meeting Sunday.

“If circumstances give rise to it, if we see that our resources are stretched, if we see a spike occurring, if actions taken or threatened to be taken that will substantially create a threat to public order and lives, this Government will act,” Holness said.

He used the party platform to enunciate benchmarks of the success of SOEs, which were imposed in seven parishes on November 15.

Holness repeated statistics he laid out in a spirited presentation in Parliament last Tuesday – sarcastically labelled by Opposition Leader Mark Golding as an Academy Award-winning performance – which measured the crackdown's effectiveness in lives lost or saved.

The party leader said the decline to 12 murders in the first week of the SOEs – a seven-year record for weekly homicides - was evidence that the security measure was working. He also cited that there were no murders recorded on Thursday, November 24.

Holness said the security forces “are terribly disappointed” at the prospect that they will no longer have the extraordinary powers of detention with which SOEs endow law enforcers.

More than 300 people detained, without charge, will be released.

With the Yuletide season approaching, Holness reiterated the Government's commitment to protecting the lives of law-abiding citizens.

“We're going to do our best, in addition to keeping track of those we did not get into custody, keep this murder rate down this Christmas season, so that every Jamaican can enjoy the season, and at the same time, maintain public order in our squares, in our commercial districts, around our banks and other financial institutions, around our markets, and in our urban and rural township centres,” he said.

At the press conference, Holness also announced that 600 new police personnel would soon be added to the Jamaica Constabulary Force in a matter of months as the Government continues to ramp up its recruitment drive.

“We will, by the year is out, add over 1,200, but even that would not be sufficient to tackle the number of murders per week ... . The new policemen would not yet have all the skills to be pressed into full operations, but even where they have been pressed into operation, we're having an impact,” he said.

“... Coming into the Christmas season, seeing that there is going to be this increase, your police forces, your security forces - and I use that term deliberately because they're not from another country, they're right here in Jamaica knowing what is happening - they see the problems that you see and they want you to be safe as well,” Holness said.

There are more than 11,000 police personnel on roll. A force complement of about 18,000 is targeted.