House approves more time for state of emergency; Senate expected to give nod today

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

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The Senate is expected to pass the Emergency Powers resolution today, to extend the current state of public emergency (SOE) in St James by another 90 days when it meets this morning at Gordon House.

The Senate meeting follows last night's passage of the resolution, the Emergency Powers (Continuance) (No 2) Resolution, 2018, under which the Government is seeking to extend the SOE to August 2, 2018.

The anti-crime measure was introduced on January 18 under a proclamation issued by the governor general and then extended after the first 14 days, as required by the constitution.

There was no likelihood of the Opposition voting against an extension last night, especially after Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips assured the House of the Opposition's support for the resolution.

“There is no doubt that we, on this side, are going to vote for the extension today. But, quite frankly, I think we need to recognise the gravity of the decision that we are being asked to make,” Phillips said, as he opened his presentation on the resolution.

He confirmed that the delay in debating it from last week was due to the Opposition's concern about debating and voting on the resolution after receiving it at 2:00 pm last week Tuesday.

He also noted that the Government had used the opportunity to make several changes to the resolution, which would not have been possible had it gone ahead last week.

The Opposition leader also acknowledged the call from Prime Minister Andrew Holness for both sides of the House to unite on the issue of crime and remove political divisions interfering with the passage of the extension.

He said that his side did not introduce tribal politics into the debate. However, he admitted that there was a tribal approach to the issue which, he claimed, was not helped by a release issued by Jamaica House on Tuesday commenting on the Opposition's position that it would not guarantee future bipartisan support for an extension.

He criticised the security forces' strategy of “gathering up young men from poor communities” and gradually processing them, saying it would worsen the relationship between the police and the communities.

“It deepens that divide over the long term, and we have gone this road before with the Suppression of Crimes Act,” Phillips argued.

Prime Minister Holness was obviously angered by the Opposition's insistence that it was protecting the rights of the citizens from abuse by the security forces.

“I am not depending on the Opposition to defend the rights of the citizens. I take it as my duty to protect the rights of every single Jamaican citizen, and I just want to make it absolutely clear,” Holness said.

“It is important that the public understands, the Church understands, and all the other stakeholders understand that the detentions are not done arbitrarily,” he stated.

Holness said that the actions of the police in conducting the detentions are guided by rules. He noted that the process starts with the preparation of the hotspots, which is paired with the intelligence data available to the security forces on people in the areas.

“The police also use existing records of outstanding warrants. Quite a number of persons were detained based on the fact that they have outstanding warrants. The warrants were there for their arrests, the police simply couldn't find them,” Holness explained.

He said that with the enhanced security measures available under the SOE, the security forces are able to locate and identify these individuals, and, in addition, have prepared offenders' lists, with the names of people known to be involved in crime, including repeat offenders.

“It is not a wanton use of the extraordinary powers that they have, and so I want to assure the nation that this Administration has ensured that the extraordinary powers given to the security forces are not used in an arbitrary way,” he said.

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