Gov’t: States of emergency not unconstitutional
LEADER of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith Friday hit back at the Opposition for its staunch resistance to an extension of the states of emergency (SOEs) across seven parishes until mid-January.
Opening what turned out to be a heated debate which stretched into late afternoon as Opposition and Government senators locked horns, she insisted that there was no constitutional breach in the imposition of the SOEs, as argued by Opposition Leader Mark Golding in the Lower House on Tuesday.
Johnson Smith insisted that the Government has followed the process set out in the constitution, dismissing the Opposition’s argument that SOEs are being used as a routine crime-fighting tool. “It is not being used in this manner. The security forces are quite clear that the levels of murder, extortion, and violent crime, are at emergency levels, and the Government shares that view. We do not agree that the fact that they have subsisted above a particular level for some time doesn’t make them an emergency. It makes it even more critical for us to act now, to stem the flow of blood”.
Johnson Smith noted that in the first two weeks of November, before the declaration of the SOEs, there were 63 murders across the island, compared to 12 murders in the first week of the measure, the lowest week of murders since 2015.
“If the numbers are clear, one would hopefully support the realisation that a Government that is entrusted by the people to deliver on the safety and security of law abiding Jamaicans, must use the tools constitutionally available to us to deliver the best possible results,” she said.
Johnson Smith contended that the fact that previous Governments did not make use of SOEs, does not put the Holness Administration, “which remains committed to people sleeping with their doors and windows open”, in the wrong.
In the extended sitting of the House of Representatives Tuesday, the Opposition rejected the resolution to extend the SOEs, with Golding leaving the sitting before the vote was taken, but made clear prior to his departure that he would not support the emergency measure.
Golding took issue with Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s categorisation of crime, in his description of murders as a threat to public health, stating that “we don’t respond to public health crises by unconstitutional measures. We respond to it effectively by ordinary legislation.” The Government eventually used its wide majority to carry the motion, with 44 votes.
But Johnson Smith pointed out the Jamaican Government has largely taken on board the Oppositions’ concerns regarding the SOEs, and went further to address specific concerns that were raised by the court in that case.