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Gov't at the mercy of the PNP with SOE

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Had Mr Peter Bunting won the contest for leader of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), the Government might have lost the continued use of the state of emergency (SOE) as a tool to fight crime.

We know that Mr Bunting was against the last two extensions of the SOE. We also know that from his own expressions, Dr Peter Phillips, who just barely hung on to the leadership of his party – by a paltry 76 votes – is not a fan of the SOE.

Fortunately for the Andrew Holness Government, Dr Phillips is going against his conscience in voting for a 30-day extension of the latest SOE, most likely because he rather sensibly understands that the people want the SOE, in the absence of any articulated crime plan.

But if both Dr Phillips and Mr Bunting, who is in the ascendency in the PNP, do not like the SOE being used as a crime-fighting tool, it obviously creates a political dilemma for the Holness Administration.

On its own, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government cannot get any extension of the SOE because it does not have the required two-thirds of the House of Representatives. This in effect means that it is at the mercy of the PNP.

If nothing else, Mr Holness must see that no serious Government can operate where the only visible crime plan is a state of emergency, over which it has little or no control. Indeed, the Administration wanted a 90-day extension but had to settle for 30 days because that is what the Opposition was willing to offer.

When time comes for the next extension — in 30 days — we might find that there is no state of emergency, if that is the will of the PNP and Dr Phillips. The country would effectively be without a workable crime plan, at a time of runaway murders.

Prime Minister Holness must act decisively in bringing his best minds together to craft a credible plan that will gain the confidence of the country and put the gunmen on the backfoot.

Obviously, this is not a task for any government alone. Mr Holness has stubbornly resisted the idea of meeting with the Opposition and civil society groups to hammer out a crime plan around which Jamaicans can be united.

Such a meeting is not a sign of weakness. Nor is it a suggestion that the Opposition is winning anything. The country knows that crime and murders did not start with the current Government. The solution has evaded all governments so far. Our one last best hope is to mobilise the country as one to fight this monster.

A state of emergency was never meant to be a day-to-day tool for fighting crime. It is for times of extreme danger for a nation, a last resort because it upends normal daily routines and create resentment among those whose activities and livelihood are affected.

Latest evidence of this is the fact that the Government has had to review the closing hours for businesses in areas where there is a state of public emergency. Coming on top of the disruptions caused by the major road construction projects, the SOE has been severely hurting businesses.

If only in this one area — crime — the transformational leader needs to be transformational. He must get the multi-party talks going again.