SOE: We've lost so much time

Thursday, May 02, 2019

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Qualified or not, the support of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) for the return of the state of emergency (SOE) in St James, and the declaration of two others — in Westmoreland and Hanover — shows that the measure works.

Of course, we should not forget that despite all sorts of attempts at constitutional obfuscation, the January 21 to 24, 2019 Observer/Bill Johnson Poll found that 83 per cent of Jamaicans supported the SOEs.

That, plus the fact that the PNP paid the terrible price of losing their safe seat in the Portland Eastern by-election in April, might have knocked some sense into the Opposition and forced its support of the new SOEs.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips admitted, even though begrudgingly: “With the increasing rate of murder in Westmoreland, Hanover and St James, there is no disagreement with a national response. It is the duty of Government to act in protection of the security of the citizens.”

The rest of his April 30, 2019 statement after the declaration of the latest SOEs can be put down to a lame attempt at face-saving, by saying “the country still awaits the formal announcement of the other crime-fighting measures which secure Jamaica in a sustainable way”.

The real point that Dr Phillips and the rest of us should not miss is that we have lost valuable time in the fight against crime, murders in particular, with over 400 since the start of the year. It is a hard way to learn, but regrettably, that is the result of our political bankruptcy.

We sincerely hope that at the end of the 14 days mandated by the constitution, should there be need to extend the SOEs — and we don't see how that can be avoided — that the political gamesmanship will not be repeated.

We have wondered how does one argue against a 26 per cent increase in murders nationally in 2017 over the previous year, compared with a 21 per cent decrease in murders in 2018 during the SOEs, according to police data.

The level of murder in St James last December was 55 per 100,000, which was way above the global average of six per 100,000, yet down from the astronomical 182 per 100,000 before the state of emergency was declared.

While the SOE was in place, police figures showed 96 murders were committed in St James over the period January 1 to December 15, 2018, compared to 322 for the same period the previous year.

In St Catherine North, 94 murders were recorded for the January 1 to December 15 period, compared to 133 over the same period in 2017, a decrease of 29.3 per cent; and in the others — Kingston Western and St Andrew South — murders dropped 25 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively.

We were never in any doubt that the states of emergency would have to be eventually lifted. However, it was obvious to us that the measure was providing vital breathing space for the joint forces to improve their crime-fighting capacity.

Dr Phillips himself acknowledged that a high level of crime has been a persistent feature of the country, with the murder rate having almost doubled every decade since Independence.

We continue to maintain that crime must be taken out of the partisan political arena, where it can get the unified treatment as a national scourge against which the full creativity and will of our people can be unleashed.

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