Sat | Sep 18, 2021

Criminals threatening nation’s sovereignty – PM

Published:Wednesday | July 21, 2021 | 12:07 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has expressed concerns that criminal gangs could threaten the sovereignty of Jamaica if they are not rigorously pursued and nullified with the use of extra security powers, such as the state of emergency (SOE).

Data from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) show that there are some 379 gangs in Jamaica, of which approximately 262 are active. Six of those gangs are said to be operating in Norwood, St James, where a zone of special operations (ZOSO) was declared on June 20, after the community registered some 15 gang-related murders since the start of the year.

“It is not as if the Government is relying on exceptional powers alone,” said Holness, while addressing the nation’s security challenge during a recent visit to St James. “We are making long-term investments in infrastructure and human development, but we have an urgent problem that if we don’t use exceptional powers to address, those gangs can become a serious threat to the State.”

“I don’t have to expand and unpack that statement anymore. Ninety miles away from here, you see what can happen,” said Holness, in reference to the recent situation in Haiti, where that country’s president was assassinated by mercenary forces who were seemingly recruited by Haitians with bad intentions.

In speaking about Mt Salem, home to the nation’s first ZOSO which was declared in 2017, Holness described the community, pre-ZOSO, as an irregularly settled community, without proper infrastructure and amenities, where many residents did not have formal documentation, which impacted their ability to conduct formalised businesses.

CULTURE OF VIOLENCE

“It was also a community that was home to several gangs, who carried out their nefarious activities within the area. In fact, they literally captured the community, and of course, right across Jamaica, there is this culture of violence,” said Holness. “We have to change this, and that is why we intervened, using special powers under the zones of special operations and special powers under the SOEs.”

In January 2018, the Holness administration declared an SOE in St James, under the Emergency Powers Act of 1938, to combat the wave of lawlessness after the parish registered an unprecedented 335 murders in 2017 and started 2018 with the same bloody rampage, which had residents cowering in fear and begging for enhanced security.

However, that piece of legislation was short-lived and removed from the Government’s crime management toolbox when Justice Bertram Morrison ruled last September that the continuous detention of five men under the SOE, without charging them, was unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the Government had provided no justifications to facilitate a proportional assessment of the legitimate objective behind the claimants’ detention.

The high court judge also ruled that the detention orders under the SOEs, on which Courtney Hall, Everton Douglas, Nicholas Heath, Courtney Thompson and Gavin Noble were arrested and held, were unlawful.

Stung by the Supreme Court’s ruling, Holness said the Government will not allow criminals to derail the gains made under the SOEs, and further noted that his administration will seek to address the constitutional concerns that were raised.

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