SOE concern

Private sector groups request urgent meeting after Opposition pulls support for anti-crime measure

Thursday, December 13, 2018

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JAMAICA'S three most powerful private sector lobby groups yesterday requested an urgent meeting with the leadership of both the Government and Opposition in order to address concerns and review the issues surrounding the Opposition's vote to end the states of public emergency (SOE).

The call from the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), and Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) came amidst growing public disappointment and anger at the position taken by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) that will result in the anti-crime measure coming to a halt on January 2 in St Catherine North; January 7 in sections of the Corporate Area; and January 31 in St James.

Yesterday, the majority of people with whom the Jamaica Observer spoke in Montego Bay expressed support for the states of emergency.

Businessman Christopher Hylton described the Opposition's decision as “a very dark moment in the life of the country”, arguing that the SOE has led to a significant drop in murders and “people are now feeling a sense of security inside and outside of their homes”.

Notoya Fisher, who is unemployed, asked: “Who is going to protect us now when they withdraw the soldiers and police?”

However, Camoy Edwards, a student nurse, supported the Opposition's decision and said that the police and soldiers operate as if Mount Salem in St James “is the worst place in Jamaica”.

The Government had sought to have the measure extended for another three months, but after a marathon session in Parliament Tuesday night, the Opposition — which had earlier signalled that it would not support another extension — denied the Government the two-thirds majority it needed to have the SOEs continue.

The private sector groups said they are aware of the ferocious impact of crime, violence and corruption on the Jamaican people and economy.

“It is based on this stark reality that we seek to address the impasse that now faces our Government and Opposition on the state of emergency,” the groups said.

They said it was their view that the SOEs, as one of the anti-crime initiatives, have been effective in reducing the level of crime in the areas implemented. “For example, in St James where there has been a 72 per cent reduction in murder and a 63 per cent reduction in shootings,” the groups pointed out.

Last week the police released data showing that major crimes have decreased significantly between January 1 and December 1, with murders down 21.7 per cent.

Yesterday, the Opposition, in withdrawing its support for the SOE, pointed to the detention of hundreds of individuals, saying that many of them are guilty of nothing more than being poor and powerless.

“We can't build a sense of healthy citizenship this way. Quite the opposite — we are sowing enmity and hostility and the seeds of violence,” Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips said in a statement released to the media ahead of the debate in Parliament.

Yesterday the private sector groups acknowledged the concerns regarding the treatment of detainees and the broader human rights issues. However, they argued that “crime is one of the biggest infringements on the very rights we are trying to protect”.

“So, as we seek to protect the lives and rights of all our citizens, it is important that we assess the initiatives that are put in place to ensure that we reap the desired results and explore ways to balance the scale between competing rights,” the groups said.

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