National Security Council meets today

Monday, January 15, 2018

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THE National Security Council is expected to meet today to consider and operationalise crime-fighting strategies coming out of the Government's three-day Cabinet retreat, which ended on Friday.

“Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the Cabinet examined current crime and public order challenges and formulated strategies to urgently address them,” a release from Jamaica House said.

It is anticipated that today's discussions will centre on, among other things, the status of the zones of special operation (ZOSO), which is now in effect under the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act.

The first ZOSO was declared in Mount Salem on September 1, 2017, as the calls increased from the Opposition People's National Party and other stakeholders for the Government to start implementing the zones. Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips pointed to the “rush” to have the law passed and questioned the delay, given the spiralling crime rate, but Prime Minister Andrew Holness insisted that the authorities were taking their time to ensure that adequate preparations are made to use the process of law.

With criticisms mounting over the rationale for the Mount Salem declaration in light of flare-ups in other crime hot spots across the island especially in the period leading up to the declaration, Holness on October 17 declared Denham Town in West Kingston as the second ZOSO.

The prime minister said the inner-city community met the criteria to be declared a zone due to escalating violence and murder, rampant criminality and gang warfare; while stating that Denham Town was selected for a “strategic” reason.

In December last year, Holness sought and got Parliament's approval for the extension of the ZOSO in Mount Salem, and Denham Town for a further 60 days.

He told the House of Representatives that both zones had yielded unquestionable results. “To date, there has been no report of murders, serious crimes or abuse of State actors in either of the zones. In fact, for months the residents of both communities have been able to experience and enjoy an environment characterised by calm and stability,” he said.

The Cabinet also discussed issues related to the ongoing contentious public sector wage negotiations, and Holness is expected to shortly convene a meeting with the heads of the various bargaining units to discuss the negotiations.

On Thursday, at the handover of 14,000 commemorative pins to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) by National Security Minister Robert Montague, general secretary of the Jamaica Police Federation, Sergeant Cecil McCalla, told the Jamaica Observer that the police were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Cabinet retreat.

“We are anticipating that after the retreat we will hear something positive. We are very anxious. We are urging the Government to be creative; what we cannot get on the salary we get in income, solutions that would enable our members to get some additional benefits. It's a salary negotiation, so wherever we can get the benefits from we would appreciate it,” he said. The federation called on the prime minister to intervene after thousands of members of the JCF called in sick during the Christmas season as a show of dissatisfaction with the state of the negotiations.

The island's teachers, who have also rejected the Government's six per cent increase wage offer, are also eagerly awaiting word from Jamaica House.

President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Georgia Waugh Richards was optimistic last week over news that Cabinet had on Monday “looked favourably” on the fringe benefit package that was proposed. “We believe that we have made some inroads…we have seen the light, and so we now await the information out of Cabinet.

— Alphea Saunders

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