Chang to announce new business closing hours for St Catherine North SOE

Senior Staff Reporter

Monday, September 24, 2018

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MINISTER of National Security Dr Horace Chang is expected to make an announcement very soon in the House of Representatives on the relaxation of opening hours for small businesses operating in the St Catherine North police division.

The Government had indicated in July that it was looking at extending the opening hours for both the St James and North St Catherine states of emergency (SOEs).

St James enjoyed relaxed hours, which started during Reggae Sumfest in July, enabling businesses such as clubs and restaurants to follow their normal opening hours, between 6:00 am and 2:00 am.

During the period an entertainment district was opened in Montego Bay, allowing for more liberal opening hours when major events are being held.

However, much stricter limits on opening hours have remained in place in the St Catherine SOE.

Chang admitted in the House of Representatives in July that while relaxing the hours would put pressure on police resources, it would also indicate how the security forces would continue to operate while ensuring that events continue on a normal basis.

“So while we have to maintain the characteristics of the state of emergency, we will allow commanders who have proven to be efficient, professional and capable to manage the areas within a normal framework, to [continue to] do so,” Dr Chang stated then.

But it would appear that the Government has not been moving with the same urgency in dealing with the relaxation of the opening hours in St Catherine, despite the minister's assurance that “there should be some improvement and increased consideration for the concerns of the citizens in these areas”.

The slow process in relaxing the hours in St Catherine, however, seemed to be have been impacted by the response of the high command of both the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), from whom the Government must seek advice on making the adjustments.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has appeared very sympathetic to the gesture since his speech in July in the House, when he indicated that he had heard the complaints about the effects of the curfew's closing hours on businesses in the SOEs, and agreed that there was a need to relax them.

“There should be some improvement and increased consideration for the concerns of the citizens in these areas,” he said then.

Last week the prime minister reiterated his concern inside Gordon House when he confirmed that he had heard the calls from the residents of North St Catherine to address the issue.

“They feel safer and their quality of life has improved, criminal activities are receding, but they would like to see a more considerate application of the restrictions, for example the times of opening their businesses,” he told the House.

Opposition MPs contributing to the debate on the 90-day extension of the state of public emergency last Tuesday and Wednesday, insisted that the matter be addressed as early as possible. In fact, some Opposition MPs felt that the vote on the extension should have been delayed pending the relaxation of the hours.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith reinforced Holness' wish when she told the Upper House on Friday that the Government intended to relax the opening rules as soon as there is clearance from the leadership of the security forces.

“We have heard the calls of small businesses (in Northern St Catherine) regarding business hours and, of course, of the citizens living within the communities regarding the need to extend the operating hours within the state of emergency,” she said.

“We recognise this as a valid concern, and it is one which is being considered,” she stated.

The House of Representatives voted to extend the state of emergency, which required a two-third majority of votes at Gordon House last Wednesday, with 47 favourable votes, the other 16 members noted as absent.

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