Tue | Dec 5, 2023

Holness blames PNP for troubles curbing murders in St James

Published:Wednesday | November 8, 2023 | 2:30 PM
SOEs allow the security forces, or authorised persons, enhanced powers of search and arrest and limit the right of detained persons to due process.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has blamed the refusal of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) to support the extension of previous states of emergency (SOEs) for the resurgence of crime in St James.

He made the comments this morning as he rejected concerns that the announcement of a SOE for the parish was a knee-jerk reaction to Monday's murder of three persons, including two primary school boys, in a taxi on the Flower Hill main road. 

“We did not have the support of the opposition in using these emergency powers to deal with the beast of crime,” Holness said while speaking at a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House. 

“Who is to be blamed for this? When the government has been reacting and responding but cannot get the support of the opposition in putting in place the measures?” he continued. 

SOEs allow the security forces, or authorised persons, enhanced powers of search and arrest and limit the right of detained persons to due process.

They expire after 14 days and can only be extended by Parliament. The Government has the required two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives but must get support from at least one opposition senator in the Upper House for an extension.

In November 2022, the Opposition senators voted against the last extension request for SOEs. Since then, SOEs were declared for St James in December 2022, May 2023 and June 2023, with all ending after 14 days. 

Following the announcement, Opposition Leader Mark Golding said while he understands the need to respond to Monday's shooting, states of emergency "haven't worked because the crime problem in the country continues" despite their use over the last five years.

Golding said the opposition supports a "balanced strategy" that includes social interventions for at-risk youth and "serious strategies" to deal with criminals.

However, Holness insisted that the latest announcement was not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent cases of brutal crimes. “The Government must respond. The fact that these things keep re-occurring, is more so a testament to the nature of the beast that we tackle,” he said. 

“It is also very clearly demonstrated that when we act and we are not supported in action by the extension of the emergency powers to finally bring to heal the beast, then the problem continues,” he said. 

Holness pointed to the use of SOEs in 2018 to curtail the murders in the western parish.

“We instituted a state of public emergency with the support of the Opposition. We had several extensions and we brought the murder rate down by over 300,” Holness said. 

Earlier this year, the PNP disclosed that it has sought a declaration from the courts on the constitutionality of the government's use of SOEs in crime fighting.

-Ainsworth Morris

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