Gov't seeking single Opposition vote in Senate to pass extension of SOEsThursday, November 25, 2021
Having approved the provisions of the National Identification and Registration Act (NIRA) after a lengthy debate last Friday, the Senate will now refocus on the issues of the latest states of emergency (SOEs) which were approved in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The House of Representatives met way beyond normal hours Tuesday night, as the two political parties pummelled each other over whether SOEs are beneficial to the fight against crime and violence, especially murders, which have continued unabated after one week of their reimposition in the most volatile areas of the island.
The basis of the dispute was the Government's decision to expand the lives of seven new SOEs through passage of two resolutions: 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, which covers four of the Corporate Area's most volatile police divisions – St Andrew South, Kingston West, Kingston Central, and Kingston Eastern.
The SOEs were introduced via a proclamation issued by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen on November 14 which becomes inoperable after November 28, unless the Government can produce a two-thirds majority in the 21-member Senate today.
Passage of the two resolutions extending the dateline for the seven distinct communities to February 12, 2022 lasted several hours and eventually ended with 46 MPs voting in support, and the two members of the Opposition who were still present — Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding, and Leader of Opposition Business Anthony Hylton — voting against. Fifteen 15 members were absent.
But the Government faces a serious hurdle today as it must get 14 votes from the 21-member Upper House to approve the resolutions. The Government names 13 senators, with eight from the Opposition, which makes the two-thirds victory impossible to achieve in these constitutional issues without at least one Opposition vote in its favour.
Golding has so far given no indication that there is a possibility of support from any of his party's eight members in the Senate. In fact, he told the House of Representatives on Tuesday night that he saw no long-term benefit from the previous SOEs over their three years in operation. He indicated that he would have preferred a call from Prime Minister Andrew Holness to resume bipartisan discussions at Vale Royal.
He also seemed to have raised Holness's temperature Tuesday when he insisted that the SOEs were “unconstitutional” and that the Supreme Court had so indicated when it ruled in favour of four detainees who had been jailed for a period of time without being charged.
Despite explanations from Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte that this was not the case, as the detentions were not unlawful under the constitution, but failed to satisfy the requirements detain suspects for lengthy periods without evidence to support the action.
Malahoo Forte said that the Government has made changes to the offending conditions for detention in the newly tabled Bills.
However, Golding insisted on the unconstitutionality and criticised the Government for reintroducing them prior to the court hearing its appeal against the verdict.
“It is not meant [to be], 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,” he said.
The prime minister, meanwhile, appealed to members of the Senate, especially Opposition members, to “seriously consider” their public obligations and vote in support of the extension of the SOEs when it is debated today.