PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says he will be watching carefully to see if the crime rate will rise after the states of public emergency (SOEs), which he declared on November 15, end today.
"It is certainly being contemplated by the Government to declare new state of public emergency. We are watching the situation very carefully to see whether or not there are any adverse changes as a result of the SOE coming to an end. Based on what I have heard from members of the security forces and members of the communities is that SOEs work. They have saved lives.
"In this entire police division [Kingston Eastern] we have only had two murders in the two weeks of the SOE. This is coming from in excess of 30 murders. The other thing to note about the SOE is the expansion of the force that it creates. We are able to utilise not just joint operations [as] the JDF is able to undertake certain operations by themselves. We were hoping that we would have this advantage to take us through the Christmas season, when there will be a great demand on the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force] for public order issues, traffic management, town order, and ensuring that the public can go about their normal business peacefully and safely," the prime minister said.
Holness was speaking on Monday during a tour of the Kingston Eastern Police Division, which is located in one of the areas where SOEs were declared. SOEs were also declared for 14 days in other sections of Kingston and St Andrew, Westmorland, Hanover, St James, St Catherine and Clarendon.
The Government was seeking to have the SOEs extended on the basis that fewer murders occured during the two weeks. However, the proposal was rejected by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) which voted against the measures in both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament last week.
"It is not for want of trying. A few years ago we proposed to the Opposition a new piece of legislation which we called the Enhanced Security Measures Act [ESMA]. We proposed then that there ought to be a limb in that legislation which provides for the detention of over 300 persons who are creating problems.
"We were seeking to have that incorporated in the new ESMA and, at that time when it was proposed, the Opposition vehemently opposed any form of detention. On Sunday I addressed a meeting and explained that we are very close to completing the new ESMA that we are proposing and that by January we will have a submission to Cabinet. I have now heard that the Leader of the Opposition has changed his tune and has said there is a form of detention that he would agree to.
"Can you imagine that we proposed this from in 2019? It was totally rejected in Parliament by the Opposition in 2019 but now they come to say they are proposing it. Aside from the obvious plagiarism one has to wonder what is the motive. If they can come to this conclusion now, why couldn't they have accepted it when we presented it to them three years ago? It is never too late for a good shower of rain. We are happy to hear the leader of the Opposition making these proposals which we had already put on the table, which means that when we go to Parliament to have the Act passed there should be no issue, no quarrel, and Jamaicans can breathe a sigh of relief that there is some consensus," Holness said, expressing hope that by early 2023 there will be legislative certainty to ensure criminals are brought under control.
Holness, meanwhile, said he has received commitment from heads of both the police force and the army that even without the powers of the SOE, the security forces will redouble their efforts to keep Jamaicans safe.
Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding on Sunday said he was happy that entertainers and party promoters who were impacted for over two years by COVID-19 restrictions won't have to face another Christmas lockdown due to an SOE.
"It would be most unjust to have large numbers of persons unable to make a basic living and make Christmas revenue that they have been desperate to try and make for so long. The bar operators, the community round robin promoters, jerk chicken men and others who sell at night to make an honest dollar would have been forced to stay at home under the curfews under the state of emergency. How would they have been able to feed their families this Christmas if it continued?
"Jail cells have been filled with persons, a few who are guilty, but many innocent Jamaicans. Over the five years the on and off use of states of emergency has resulted in many lives being badly damaged as a result of long periods of detention of innocent persons who have lost their jobs," Golding said.