Senate passes extension of SOE in St Andrew South

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, July 20, 2019

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LEADER of Government Business in the Senate Senator Kamina Johnson Smith yesterday said that for the first week of the newly instituted state of emergency (SOE) in the South St Andrew Police Division (July 7-13), murders were reduced in the area.

However, this did not deter the majority of the Opposition senators from refusing to give full backing to the proposed extension, even with the support given by Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips and approximately 10 Opposition Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

In the end, the Government scraped home a two-thirds majority of the 21-seat Senate by obtaining 14 votes. Three Opposition senators — Leader of Opposition Business Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, and senators Lambert Brown and Wensworth Skeffery — voted with the Government's 11 members present for the majority.

Five Opposition senators, including Damion Crawford, Andre Haughton and Floyd Morris, who were present during the sitting, were absent for the vote.

Senator KD Knight, who attacked the proposed extension of the SOE as meaningless, said that although he opposed the extension he had no choice but to abstain.

“I cannot support it. I want to vote against it, but it is the only thing they have,” Senator Knight said, insisting that the Government's position was “rubbish”.

But Government member Senator Ransford Braham reminded Knight that crime had also continued to rise under his watch as minister of national security in the People's National Party's (PNP) administrations spanning the period 1989 to 2001.

Senator Johnson Smith said that there was a tremendous improvement in an area that was rated the second-highest in terms of the aggregate figures for murders and shootings across Jamaica.

She said that between January 1, 2017 and July 2, 2019, St Andrew South experienced 843 murders/violent shootings, which indicated a prevalence of guns and gangs in the specified area.

Johnson Smith said that although police intelligence suggests a higher number of gangs, they have identified 25 active gangs with inter- and intra-gang feuds manifested in frequent violent confrontations, reprisal killings and counter-reprisals.

She noted that, cumulatively, these actions have resulted in heightened crime figures for the divisions.

Included in her details was information that between January 1, 2019 and July 2, 2019, there were 94 murders and 98 shootings in the divisions; the highest among all divisions, or 14 per cent of all murders committed in Jamaica during the period, and 15 per cent of recorded shooting incidents. This reflected a 19 per cent increase in murders and a 40 per cent increase in shootings over the same period for 2018.

“If the rate of murders experienced were allowed to continue without intervention, it is predicted that it would result in as many as 190 murders in the division [this year],” Senator Johnson Smith explained.

This would compare with the 148 recorded in 2018.

She said that the Government has been advised by the security forces that the declaration of the SOE has allowed them to conduct operations designed to target and disrupt gangs and organised criminal networks across the division.


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