Furious Holness slams Opposition for voting against SOEs
Prime Minister Andrew Holness welcoming news from Unico Hotel that it will build 1,000 housing units for hotel workers. (Photo: Phillip Lemonte)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has labelled members of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) as hypocrites, for not voting to extend a state of public emergency (SOE) in several parishes, claiming that it infringes on the right of Jamaicans.

Holness, his face cloaked in anger, expressed his disappointment in a speech on Sunday at the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) headquarters on Belmont Road in St Andrew.

The prime minister emphasised that of the over 300 people who were detained under the SOE which was declared two weeks ago, 250 were released after processing, while the estimated 50 who remained in custody were held because they are believed to have strong connections to the criminal underworld.

Holness also pointed to the 1976 SOE declared by the PNP in Government, which he said disregarded the rights of many Jamaicans. He also pointed out that within the first week of the most recently declared SOE murders dropped significantly.

"The 1976 State of Emergency was abused. It was not this Government that did it. It was not this Government that abused human rights and violated the provisions of the constitution and took took no care in trying to preserve life. Speak to Pearnel Charles and 'Babsy' [Olivia Grange]. They can tell you first hand what they suffered.

Senator Peter Bunting, Opposition Spokeperson on National Security (Photo: Observer File)

"Many members who sat in this room can tell you of the experience, being held for one year and being released on condition that you pack your bag and leave the country. That is why I find it a farce, a great hypocrisy when I hear them pontificating about rights.

"I have to wonder if the Opposition has the interest of the country at heart. I have had my doubts since then if they really have an interest in saving lives. In this current state of public emergency, there is no question that we have been successful in bringing murders down to 12, which would be lowest since 2015. The state of emergency will expire Monday at midnight. The security forces are terribly disappointed that they no longer have those powers," he said.

The approximately 50 people whom the security forces have in custody were described as violence producers by Holness, who loathed the idea of having to release them tomorrow.

"The persons we have detained are not arbitrarily detained. These people are associated, people whom we have intelligence on and persons who are involved or closely associated [with crime]. The evidence on which the police held them are strong. These are our violence producers. These are the persons who are likely to cause the murder rate to rise once again. We are going to do our best. We have to keep the murder rate down during the Christmas season so that every Jamaican can have an equal opportunity to enjoy the season."

Holness raised another instance in which he said it appeared as if the PNP did not have the best interest of the people at heart. He said the JLP Government of 2010 was forced to declare an SOE which was very effective. When the Government tried to have the security measure extended to Spanish Town, St Catherine, to target a major organised gang, the PNP rejected the idea.

"That SOE reduced crime immediately, though it targeted one part of Jamaica. It had an effect lasting over two or three years on murders. It disrupted, if not destroyed, many gangs. We wanted an extension to that state of public emergency. I was leader of Government business at the time so I was tasked to speak with the Opposition. I went to speak to one Opposition member who is very vocal now as he was then against supporting that state of public emergency.

"At that time it was a specific request to extend the SOE into St Catherine because we were hot on the heels of one of the most notorious gangs in Jamaica in that area. I had to wonder, based upon how strident he was, whether or not there was some interest in protecting this gang. They refused to support the extension. Luckily, that gang is now before the court under the anti-gang legislation but you see how long it took."

BY JASON CROSS Observer staff reporter crossj@jamaicaobserver.com

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