Opposition stands with Gov't in COVID-19 fight

Opposition stands with Gov't in COVID-19 fight

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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THE Opposition People's National Party (PNP) says it has no intention of mounting a legal challenge against the Government's choice of legislation to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

Opposition spokesperson on justice Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, at a digital press conference hosted by the PNP on Tuesday, stressed that the party wants to work with the Government to overcome the situation.

“I can assure that the furthest thing from our minds now is a constitutional challenge, or any kind of legal challenge. We stand united with the Government in fighting this issue. My call has been based on quite the opposite; I am cautioning the Government to do the right thing so that it avoids any legal challenge. What is uppermost in our minds now is the safety and protection of the people of Jamaica, within the bounds of the constitution,” she stated.

Senator Scott-Mottley echoed the attorney general's sentiments that the country is in uncharted waters with COVID-19. She said, however, that during a crisis such as this, the Jamaican people must be assured that the Government will protect them, and that for this reason, her party is calling on the Andrew Holness-led Administration to declare a state of public emergency.

The Opposition has argued that the state of emergency would be better able to manage the crisis, instead of a curfew. On Monday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the amendment to the disaster risk management (enforcement measures) order, to give legal effect to the curfew. The order was tabled and gazetted on Tuesday.

She said it was critical that it be made clear the legislation under which the all-island nightly curfew, which will last for seven days, has been implemented.

“There are people who are going to say this is not the time for such niceties. The law is not a nicety. The constitution is the supreme document that governs all of our lives, and it is more important in a time of crisis that we use it to guide our actions,” she said.

The Opposition senator said she was also concerned about the condition of individuals who are behind bars.

“Sometimes we tend to forget that these people are humans, that, in fact, under the state of emergency, there are a number of persons detained who it is not alleged that they have committed an offence and they have not been charged with any,” she said, pointing to recent incidents of disease outbreaks at correctional facilities, including the current cases of chickenpox at the Half-Way-Tree lock-up.

The Opposition senator said consideration must be given to the potential devastation that could occur inside the penal system if prisoners and staff should become infected with COVID-19.

Senator Scott-Mottley pointed out that measures such as social distancing was not possible inside prisons, and that the authorities, therefore, need to formulate a COVID-19 plan for these institutions.

She suggested that this plan should include releasing individuals detained under the state of emergency who are not a threat to the population.


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