SOE: If Dr Peter Phillips doesn't get it, who will?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

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Dr Peter Phillips, the Opposition leader, is unquestionably one of Jamaica's brightest politicians. His formidable intellect and ability to articulate complex issues set him apart among his peers.

In regard to how indelibly he has stamped his intellectual rigour in the portfolios he occupied, including the ministries of finance, national security, health and transportation, history will be kind to him.

So the very big and very perplexing question is: Why does he not get it, where the states of public emergency is concerned? And if he doesn't, who will?

Perhaps we will hear today, coming out of last night's meeting on crime between Prime Minister Andrew Holness and himself, that Dr Phillips has seen the error of his ways and is willing to reverse his stance on not extending the SOE.

But it might not be a sensible thing to hold one's breath.

Dr Phillips has said unequivocally that he was prepared to suffer politically for leading his party to the vote against extending the states of public emergency in St James, North St Catherine and parts of Western Kingston beyond this month.

He has run for cover under the constitution and has charged that detainees were being ill-treated. If detainees were being poorly treated, surely the solution would be to fight for improvement and punishment for those who are responsible.

How does a constitutional argument provide comfort to those who are being killed and assure a desperate population that they are not next as marauding gunmen operate with impunity anywhere and at any time in this country?

How does one argue against a 26 per cent increase in murders in 2017 over the previous year, compared with a 21 per cent decrease in murders in 2018? The numbers signal that the SOE was working. In fact, one can be forgiven for asking was it working too well?

But that job is not yet over. In the first week of this new year, according to news reports, there has been an average of at least one murder per day so far. Is a constitutional argument going to keep that in check?

Dr Phillips should not allow himself to fall victim to the widespread view in political circles that his time has passed; that his political future is dim; and that his party cannot win the next general election.

Even if the analysis supports those view — and that is not our position – he may wish to consider that his greater legacy might not be in becoming prime minister, but in bequeathing to the Jamaican Government the guts to stay a difficult but correct economic path, which he did at great political cost.

He must also contemplate the suggestion from expert quarters that if crime is robbing Jamaica of three per cent of potential gross domestic product (GDP) growth, then the current minuscule growth of one per cent could be four or five per cent, if we get on top of the problem.

Dr Phillips need not be prime minister to help Jamaica achieve this elusive goal. Would that last night's meeting be the start along that path.

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