Johnson Smith refutes claims that SOEs/ZOSOs not working

Johnson Smith refutes claims that SOEs/ZOSOs not working

Senior staff reporter

Monday, June 29, 2020

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Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, assured the Senate on Friday that the Government is working towards introducing more zones of special operations (ZOSOs) shortly.

“We have already signalled that more ZOSOs will be declared. But they take resources, they take money. It takes cash to care, and those resources have to be put in place,” she told the Senate, as it debated another 60-day extension of the current ZOSOs in Mount Salem, St James and Denham Town, Kingston.

However, she recalled that one of the international documents that she signed as the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade is the cooperation agreement with the European Union, which will provide 20 million euros over a period of time, to assist directly with the implementation of the social aspects of the ZOSOs, as well as with the creation of more zones.

“This is someting that is about to come to fruition but, as I said, these things take time,” she assured her colleagues in the Senate.

Senator Johnson Smith was responding to questions raised by Opposition member, Senator Damion Crawford, about statements made over the past year by the Government about its intention to increase the number of ZOSOs and boost contributions to improve the lives of Jamaicans living in crime-ridden communities.

Mount Salem was declared as Jamaica's first ZOSO in September 2017, with another zone established in Denham Town, Kingston, in October of the same year. Since then there has been no addition to the number. On Friday, the Senate voted for another 60 days despite some resistance from the Opposition.

Among the main bones of contention was the April, 2019 announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that ZOSOs were to be rolled out in an additional 20 communities across the island.

Holness told supporters of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) at the National Arena last November that this year at least four more crime hot-spot communities are to be declared zones of special operations (ZOSOs).

He said that the success of ZOSOs in Mount Salem, St James, and Denham Town, Kingston, had shown that the measure can be effective in curbing the crime wave. As a result, he said the Government would soon be announcing four more ZOSOs and possibly another three after that.

“So we are moving quickly to cover all those 20 communities that we have identified [as in need of increased social intervention] and have them under zones of special operations, where we can control crime, and at the same time allow the community the peace to build and flourish and grow,” he said.

Holness explained then that the 20 million euros from the EU would assist in the areas of community development and security. He said that the Government will use the money to fund long-term interventions in crime-ridden communities, noting that states of public emergency (SOEs) could bring down the crime rate by themselves.

But, with no ZOSOs added since then, Holness came under attack in the House of Representatives on Tuesday and the Senate on Friday from the Opposition which raised concerns about the delay in starting the programme.

Newly appointed Leader of Opposition Business, Peter Bunting, suggested in the House of Representatives that some $20 billion spent in the security forces budget over the past two years had failed to improve the situation for the residents of the vulnerable communities. His views were echoed in the Senate on Friday by Opposition member, Senator Damion Crawford, who also felt that the spending on crime-fighting was going in the wrong direction.

“I supported the legislation for the ZOSO because I thought that was what ZOSO was about social intervention,” Bunting argued, noting his preference for spending on schools, housing, and physical infrastructure than on equipping the security forces to control crime.

Crawford suggested that the Government was spending on the wrong things, when it spent billions on improving the capacity of the police to fight crime.

“Maybe we are fighting the wrong thing. Maybe we are fixing the wrong things. Maybe we are aiming to fix crime instead of fixing the system,” he said.

But, closing the debate in the Senate, Johnson Smith stuck to her guns, noting that the Government is confident that the approach it is taking to confront crime and violence is the right response.

“The fact that the gross and horrendous attack against our police in Horizon Park took place in a state of emergency, and the fact that a high percentage of murders that have occurred this year have taken place within states of emergency they don't support an argument that the states of emergency are failing. They support an argument that, that is why the states of emergency are needed,” she said.

She said that “it is as clear as day” to those people within the communities that the states of emergency have been declared where crime is so chronic that it creates a threat to public safety on such a large scale and so dangerous a scope as to imperil public safety.

She said that this was borne out by the fact that the reducing murders and shootings in the communities where the states of emergency have been declared and the overall reduction in major crimes across the island speak for themselves.

“They are facts and, as people always say, 'facts have no friends'. It is the reality. We are not where we want to be, we are not where we need to be as a nation, but the states of emergency have been important for the purpose they serve,” she said.

She said, however, that this has not been to the exclusion of social and economic elements of the country's path to development. They are necessary and important, but they are things which take time, she noted.

“Everything is important. What we need is a total transformation, but in order for social programmes to work sustainably, as has been demonstrated, you must reduce crime. People must not feel fear to leave their homes to go kick ball down the road. People must feel that they can go to the homework learning centre, or leave their children there while they are at work. You cannot do those things when the 'dons' and the guns and the gangs are the ones in charge. Therefore it is important for us to be able to clear, hold, and build, and all of these things don't happen immediately,” she stated.

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