House approves extension of SOEs at late night sittingWednesday, November 24, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
The House of Representatives at a sitting late Tuesday approved two resolutions from the Government to extend the States of Public Emergency (SOEs) which were declared on November 14.
At the conclusion of a lengthy debate, extension of the measures until February 12, 2022 was supported by 46 Members of Parliament while two, including Opposition Leader Mark Golding, voted against, and the 15 other MPs, including 13 Opposition members, were absent.
Government MPs who remained for the late vote were firmly in favour of the extension of the measures requested by the Government on basis of two resolutions tabled by Minister of National Security, Dr Horace Chang.
The minister's resolutions were titled: The Emergency Powers (Parishes of St. James, Westmoreland and Hanover) (Continuance) Resolution, 2021; and, The Emergency Powers (Specified Areas in the Parish of Kingston and St. Andrew) (Continuance) Resolution, 2021.
Passage of both resolutions, by two-third majorities, are required for their extension beyond the 14-day proclamation of the Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, which ends on November 28.
However, despite the easy victory in the House of Representatives, the Government still faces a serious challenge in the Senate, which meets Thursday and Friday to debate the issues, as it will need at least one Opposition vote to create the two-thirds majority it needs to get final Parliamentary approval.
Golding, who was the last of several Opposition MPs to enter the debate on the motion, showed little intention of supporting the Government when he addressed the House during the debate. He said that he saw no long term benefit from the SOEs during their three years in operation, when they were on and off, and called, instead, for a resumption of the Vale Royal bipartisan talks.
“In the meantime, we need to work together and we are willing to work with the Government,” he said, insisting that the SOEs “does not, and will not work”.
In addition, Golding argued that the SOEs were unconstitutional, and should not have been revived while the constitutionality of the extended detention of some detainees was still before the Appeals Court.
“We have come too far to give up our basic rights,” he insisted, despite an intervention from Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte who tried to explain the issues which needed to be addressed by the Court.
But Prime Minister Andrew Holness insisted that the SOEs were actually working when they were brought to a sudden halt by the Court ruling.
“The SOEs work, and if you were to take the analogy of the SOEs being the emergency measures that we have taken during the pandemic to slow and control the spread of the virus, you would effectively say that the SOEs have flattened the curve. That's what they have done,” Holness said.
“It is not meant, and no one on this side has ever said that the SOE is the silver bullet. That's not what we have been saying. The SOEs cannot replace conventional policing. This is a point on which we agree. The SOE, however, is a tool to attenuate the situation. To bring it to yield, to allow for conventional policing to work,” he said.
“I don't think that the country should be deprived of the use of these tools, when they are clearly defined as to how they should be used, and especially when it is clear that this government is making every effort to ensure that the rights of citizens are protected,” he argued.
He said that what the Government wants from the SOE are the power of detention and the use and deployment of the military to allow for a more strategic and tactical use of the security forces in the campaign against crime and violence.
“The supreme interest is to protect the lives of our people, and that is not of academic interest,” he said.
“You have said that you are not supporting the SOEs, because they are unconstitutional. As the minister of justice and others have said, there has been no such ruling. So, the position of lack of support for the SOE must be more than just a conviction. It is probably a strategy to ensure that the Government does not have full use of a tool that would result in the reduction of murders in the country,” Holness suggested.
At this stage, Golding rose on a point of order, arguing that the prime minister was “imputing motive”.
“That is imputing motive. It is suggesting that we have taken a position on this side for achieving some kind of political strategy to ensure that the Government is not successful. That is very untrue. I think it is unbecoming of the prime minister to say that in a debate such as this. I would ask that he withdraw it,” Golding argued.
Holness responded that it was far from him to be imputing motive. However, he agreed to withdraw the comment.
He also urged members of the Opposition in the Senate to seriously consider their public obligations, and vote for the extension of the SOEs.