'Double-edged sword'

Stakeholders in St James, Hanover, Westmoreland welcome SOE, but...

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Stakeholders in the crime-ridden parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland have come out in support of the state of public emergency (SOE) announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday.

Mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Homer Davis, who has been strident in his call for the reinstatement of the enhanced security measures in St James, was among those who welcomed the announcement.

“I expect the security forces to be very visible and to conduct the necessary cordon and search, and to search diligently for the people who are creating the mayhem in and across the parish of St James,” Mayor Davis said.

President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce Winston Lawson also embraced the SOE in the parish.

“We have long called for some immediate response to cauterise what we saw. There were concerns. We certainly welcome the move and whatever we can do to support it we will, because what we want to see is the loss of lives to stop, first and foremost,” Lawson said.

Yesterday, the prime minister announced that, at the recommendation of the security forces, a recommendation was made to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen for the declaration of the SOE in the three western parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland.

President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce Richard Wallace said while the business community welcomes the SOE for Westmoreland, there are concerns surrounding the effect it will have on Negril.

The parishes of Westmoreland and Hanover share the resort town of Negril.

“We have been asking the prime minister, asking the minister of national security and the commissioner, asking them, 'Please do something.' We don't mind the soldiers in Negril,” stated Wallace.

“We are concerned about the negative repercussion. Declaring an SOE is a double-edged sword; it comes both ways. It is going to affect business and our image abroad, the movement of tourists and the movement of locals, which will affect businesses in Negril, but I suppose this is the price that we will have to pay right now to try and drive back the scourge of crime that is overwhelming our town and our parish,” Wallace argued, pointing out that there have been “serious issues in Negril with crime”.

“There have been murders in broad daylight in the town centre, and daily robberies, stores getting robbed at gunpoint, even our workers, our employees, the regular citizens can't walk in peace as they are being robbed in Negril and around,” he said.

The SOE will be in effect for 14 days and, if necessary, it will be extended for up to three months by a two-thirds majority of the Houses of Parliament.

Wallace said the chamber is hoping that the SOE in Westmoreland will be temporary, and won't negatively impact businesses.

Custos of Westmoreland, Rev Hartley Perrin, said the SOE imposition in the parish was long in coming.

“The people of Westmoreland have suffered extreme grief and fear for the past number of years and, in recent times, even more so. So, any steps that can alleviate the current situation and current trend will be more than welcomed.”

The custos argued that most residents will be okay with the restrictions that come with the enhanced security measures.

“It wouldn't matter seriously to most of us, because we recognise that we will have to surrender some liberty if that is necessary, because we have already surrendered it to the criminals in terms of how we were able to function, in terms of our movement in the day and as well as in the night,” Rev Perrin said.

Mayor of Savanna-la-Mar Councillor Bertel Moore warned against human rights violations.

“The people of Westmoreland appreciate it, because the rate of crime in the parish was getting so bad. Only one thing I am hoping is that when they detain someone they must do their investigation as quickly as possible because I don't want to see someone going to work and they just hold on to them and they lose their jobs because of this thing. I don't have a problem but they must ensure that how they do it is the right way,” the mayor said.

Interim president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, Moses Chybar, was also in favour of the declaration of the SOE in the parish.

“This initiative can bear fruit for us and we will commit that we, as the business community, are willing to cooperate with the authorities in order to make this initiative a success. We are optimistic about it and that it will bring some progress in the right area in reducing crime and violence in the area,” Chybar stated.

He said members of the business community are willing to make the sacrifice to close their establishments earlier under the SOE, adding that it is something they do anyway, out of fear of the criminals.

A state of emergency that was imposed in St James in January 2018, and discontinued in January of this year due to the withdrawal of support from the parliamentary Opposition, is touted to be responsible for the 70 per cent reduction in murders over the previous year.

Last year, the St James police recorded 102 murders, down from 341 in 2017.

But one concern held in some circles was that not enough illegal firearms were recovered.

Up to last week, Hanover had recorded 13 murders, a mere seven per cent decline when compared to last year, while Westmoreland had 43 murders, a 13 per cent decrease over the same period last year.

Despite the decline, however, Police Commissioner Major Antony Anderson argued during a Jamaica House press conference yesterday that Westmoreland was the most murder-dense place in the country, followed by Hanover.

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