'Right move'

Opposition, businesses support state of public emergency in St James

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 19, 2018

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The Government yesterday placed St James under a state of public emergency, the latest measure in its fight against crime, and immediately won support from the Opposition and business lobby organisations.

A proclamation signed by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, and circulated to journalists attending a press briefing on the measure at Jamaica House, said that “the proclamation shall, unless previously revoked, remain in force for 14 days or for such longer period, not exceeding three months, as both Houses of Parliament may determine by a resolution supported by a two-thirds majority of all members of each House (of Parliament)”.

In swift responses, the Opposition Spokesman on National Security Fitz Jackson said that the People's National Party “lends qualified support to this effort and will await the regulations governing the operations of the State of Emergency which are required to be placed before the Parliament”.

He added that the party would be insisting that a robust, accessible and viable mechanism to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens during the operations must be in place.

The Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) said that it fully supports the declaration, “which allows law enforcers special powers to deal with the outbreak of violence affecting the parish”.

The JMA said that without “firm and resolute measures to combat this disease of crime”, all other efforts to achieve economic growth would be futile, and Vision 2030 would remain a dream.

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) said it held the view that “the authorities must take urgent and bold measures to address the impact that crime and criminality is having on the Jamaican society and the danger it represents to our prospects for tourism and for investment-driven growth throughout the wider economy”.

“The implementation of the state of emergency under the nation's constitutional provisions is appropriate in light of the grave danger posed by gangs and individuals who have, for too long, been holding the country to ransom, and threatening the gains arising from the difficult but necessary economic policies put in place by successive administrations. We must be resolute in our insistence that such an outcome cannot be entertained,” the JCC added.

Prime Minister Holness, in explaining the developments leading to the declaration of the state of emergency, said that he had been advised by the security forces in writing that the level of criminal activities, including shootings and murders, have continued in the parish, and that the threat was of such a nature and so intensive in scale as to endanger public safety.

He said that, in response, he had written the governor general recommending the declaration of a state of public emergency for the parish of St James. The governor general signed the proclamation yesterday.

“The proclamation has been gazetted: A state of public emergency is now in effect for the parish of St James,” Holness announced shortly after mid-day yesterday.

This was hours after a contingent of Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) personnel had descended on and taken over the parish. It was explained that the delay was necessary in order not to warn criminals in the parish to migrate.

The prime minister noted that, under the State of Public Emergency, the security forces will have extraordinary powers, and some rights will be suspended. However, he said that this did not mean that use of the extraordinary powers by the security forces will be arbitrary or beyond review.

“The declaration of the state of emergency does not mean a suspension of the rule of law,” he assured the public.

He said that the security forces are expected, and have been directed, to treat citizens with respect and protect the dignity and safety of all.

He said that the actions of the security officers would be directed at criminals and their facilitators.

Acknowledging that the measure would create some level of general discomfort, Holness said he was asking the public to cooperate with the security forces.

“Now is the time. If you know where the guns are, please tell us. If you know where the criminals are, please tell us,” he added, noting that the reward for guns programme is still in effect, and urged citizens to call Crime Stop at 311, or call the security forces' hotline at 830-8888.

He said that the Government would continue with a credible process of communicating with the public.

“We ask the press and the public to be understanding of the sensitivities of this matter,” he concluded.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck told the briefing that the institution of the state of emergency was the “ultimate tool” that the Government can utilise “to restore peace and reclaim public order and public security in a community. However, he said that this did not mean that respect for human rights has been abandoned.

“In fact, they will be preserved and protected,” he added, noting that an emergency review tribunal will be established.

National Security Minister Robert Montague said that the effort would target criminal elements and their facilities.

“We will be relentless as we pursue the criminals and their facilitators,” he said.

He stated that, while some activities will be curtailed as much as possible, the intention was not to interfere with “good” citizens going about their normal business.

Montague also appealed to the residents of the parish to provide the security forces with information about gunmen in their communities.

“We need your full co-operation in restoring peace and order, so that the good people can continue to contribute to the well-being of Jamaica,” he added.

Commissioner of Police George Quallo noted that St James has been a major challenge to law and order in the country.

“Last year, there were 335 murders in the parish. This is almost twice that of any other parish,” he pointed out, noting that second-placed Clarendon had a total of 168 murders.

He said that there were numerous gangs in the parish, and that they were engaging in murders, shootings, lotto scamming and extortion, among other illegal activities.

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