Holness, Phillips to continue crime-fighting talks today

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 17, 2019

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips are expected to join representatives of civil society groups today to continue discussions on cooperation in tackling crime.

The two leaders gave their blessings to the effort on Tuesday, as the House of Representatives debated and voted to extend the lives of five states of emergency (SOEs) by a further 90 days, and two zones of special operations (ZOSOs) by a further 60 days.

Prime Minister Holness informed the House of Representatives that they had actually met last week Thursday, at the invitation of unnamed civil society groups, in an attempt to find common ground on which they could pursue a strategy to deal with crime — especially murders and shootings, which have continued to plague a number of parishes despite the emergency measures.

Holness told his parliamentary colleagues that the talks were initiated last week and that he and Dr Phillips have been discussing the need for consensus around a national strategy. He said that he was pleased to report that they have made progress towards the effort and were confident of some success.

“The leader of the Opposition and myself, facilitated by the civil society groups, last week started work in this regard, and on Thursday (today) there should be another stakeholders meeting which will address the concerns and the issues we face, and seek to create an uncontested political space in which there can be a national consensus on a crime-fighting plan for Jamaica,” Holness told the House.

“I think it is a positive step and a step in the right direction,” the prime minister added.

Dr Phillips noted that they have been addressing a major obstacle to cooperation in the past, which was the idea that a prolonged state of emergency was the most effective strategy available. However, he admitted that despite six SOEs over the last 18 months, the projected results for this year were not very encouraging.

He said he believed that all the members of parliament, and the majority of Jamaicans, would accept that violent crimes — especially murder — probably represent the major threat to the country's progress and advancement, and that it should be an issue around which the entire nation finds consensus as to the way forward, which should continue even after changes in the government.

“We are pleased that this venture is now under way, and that the result will be some measure of agreement, not just between the parliamentarians but one which would embrace the wider community of stakeholders,” he stated.

He suggested that the opportunity was now being developed to ensure that crime fighting does not remain an issue of contention between the poltical parties.

“We need to learn from our history, as a country, that the problem didn't just emerge…but it is a long-standing problem which must be dealt with in the same way that we were agreed to reducing the national debt. We can find a way forward, if we are determined and sincere about it,” Dr Phillips said.

The House of Representatives eventually agreed to the extension of the states of emergency, which are in St James, Hanover, Westmoreland, St Catherine, and sections of the Corporate Area, for a further 90 days, but not until after the prime minister assured the House that the measures would be relaxed over the Christmas season to accommodate businesses and their customers.

The two ZOSOs, Denham Town and Mount Salem (St James), were also extended by a further 60 days.


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