Patterson wants National Security Commission

Sunday, January 20, 2019

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Retired Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson has called for the establishment of a National Security Commission in a bid to fight excessive crime and violence in this northern Caribbean island.

Patterson was addressing the awards banquet of the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica, Kingston Chapter, at Spanish Court Hotel in St Andrew last night, around the theme 'Building The National Consensus'.

“Tonight, I will deliberately avoid any trespass on the debate as to the constitutionality of the three states of emergency (SOE) or whether or not extensions of the these SOE declarations were justified or not,” Patterson told the lay magistrates, whom he said he preferred to refer to as justices of the peace.

“With the full benefit of long reflection in the pavilion and 20/20 hindsight, I have come firmly to the strong personal conviction, that the EAC (Electoral Advisory Commission) model must be the kernel in the fight to combat excessive crime and wanton violence, which not just today but during the life of past administrations, including my own, constitutes the greatest threat to our society and its prospects for prosperity.

“I believe the time has come for the constitution of a single body, appropriately tailored by the sartorial pattern of the EAC model that would eventually incorporate a range of wide-ranging functions now spread across the Police Services Commission, the Office of Complaints Authority, INDECOM, and a myriad of related groups — consisting of three independent persons chosen for their expertise by the governor general after due consultations, with one person nominated by the prime minister and one by the Leader of the Opposition,” Patterson told the gathering.

Citing a precedent for state of emergency extensions, Patterson said that only legislative action which requires a “stipulated timetable” can remove constitutional and institutional restraints. An organisation, like the EAC, he argued, could guide the initial process, and like the electoral commission, would only acquire full commission status for aspects of national security in an agreed parliamentary time frame.

“We could use the precedent of Section 67 in our constitution that provides for a Standing Committee of the House, chaired by the Speaker, to delineate constituency boundaries, but since the birth of the Electoral Advisory Committee, these are acted upon in accordance with their recommendations.

“The Government would retain the power for the original declaration of an SOE. The EAC practice could be applied to matters pertaining to their extension. Extensions would be first considered by such a group and their recommendation then approved by recourse to Parliament in accordance with the existing legislative requirements for extensions. This would allow for certainty where required, and avoid the danger that a state of emergency was being extended or curtailed for partisan political reasons.

“I firmly believe the creation and nurturing of a National Security Commission is the most constructive way to secure and build national consensus in order to fashion a common design and bridge the partisan divide, without which we will always be prone to scoring political points and never permanently curtail the menace of violent crime,” said Patterson, who served as prime minister of Jamaica from 1993 to 2006, and never lost a general election while he headed the now 80-year-old People's National Party.

Author of the newly published book, My Political Journey, Patterson also spent time explaining the concept and purpose behind the penning of his detailed, fast-selling work.

My Political Journey has sought to relate how one of humble rural origin could, through the doors of educational opportunity and the avenues of our democratic process, ascend the ladder of service to our nation at the highest levels. My engagement in writing it also allowed me to identify the main springs of our success as a nation and pinpoint the hurdles where we have stumbled.

“There is one constant link and indispensible thread — it is reflected best by the full release of our creative energy within a template that commands a total unity of purpose and lofty goals, which must fuel the spirit of a national flame that may flicker but never [be]extinguished.

“Somehow, we have to overcome the barriers which confront us — race, colour, class, gender, religion and, of course, party politics — to build that Jamaica which Vision 2030 heralds: “The place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

“Simply put, we will succeed where the talents we promote and the solutions we find are grounded in the collective strengths and united vision of the Jamaican people,” he suggested.

Asking the audience about what could be learnt from “action in concert”, Patterson pointed to the work of the EPOC, in the smooth financial monitoring of Jamaica's affairs as an example of continued progress across administrations.

“For years we had been grappling with the problem of maintaining the best practices in financial management when changes of administration occur.

“The advent of EPOC was a welcome catalyst in the management of our economic affairs, which permitted us to move smoothly from one administration to another in the implementation of our economic affairs. Critical stakeholders became engaged in the monitoring process.”

He also pointed to the strides that the electoral process has made through general improvements in the system.

“Some of you may have forgotten that less than four decades ago our electoral system suffered severe convulsions which threatened to tear apart the delicate fabric of our nascent democracy.

“Faced with the imminent danger of ripping our society to shreds, good sense prevailed and the political leadership of both sides, strongly supported by the media, the clergy, academia, our professionals and civil society, were able to design and create what now ranks among the most efficient and highly respected electoral machineries in the world.

“It is full confidence in the integrity of the electoral system and the maturation of our two-party tradition which enabled a new government to be sworn in within days of the last general elections, with the slender majority of a single seat — without a single shot, without the need for judicial recourse or foreign intervention,” Patterson stated.

He urged lay magistrates, whom he described as “healers of the breach”, to continue to play a “catalytic role in building a better, brighter, prosperous and peaceful Jamaica, this beautiful and precious land we love”, as custodians of the peace and agents of change.

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