THE Opposition indicated yesterday that it is undaunted by any possibility of a political fallout from its refusal to support an extension of states of emergency (SOEs) across seven police divisions in the country in which murders have been skyrocketing.
“That is par for the course in terms of how the Jamaica Labour Party operates,” Opposition Leader Mark Golding said yesterday at a press conference called to elaborate on the party's reasons for rejecting the continued use of the security measure.
“They are going down a dubious road; we have decided that we are not following them down that road. Our position is clear. In my experience, whenever we stand on principle, ultimately, we are vindicated. To do what is right is the best thing to do,” he said.
The resolutions to extend the SOEs beyond 14 days obtained a 46 to 2 vote in the Lower House on Tuesday but hit a wall in the Senate on Thursday as the Government failed to secure the two-thirds majority vote that was needed to carry the resolutions.
The Government needed at least one affirmative vote from the Opposition side. Thirteen Government senators voted in favour of the resolutions, three Opposition senators who remained for the vote said nay, and five Opposition senators were absent. This means the SOEs will have to be abandoned as of tomorrow.
“I am prepared to pay a price, if that is what the Jamaican people think I should pay, ...[but] I don't think we will pay a political price for it because Jamaican people will see through the politics that is being played by the Government and realise that what we are doing is standing up for the rights of the Jamaican people,” Golding stated yesterday.
Golding argued that the resumption of SOEs with modified regulations is still the same as the use of SOEs for the purpose of routine crime fighting, which is not what the constitution provides that power for. Furthermore, he reiterated, SOEs do not work.
The Opposition leader said his side could not support the extension of a failed strategy which did not achieve any lasting improvements in the crime situation between 2017 and 2020 when it was in previously used.
“To the contrary, we have continued to see elevated levels of violent crime, and in particular murders, over that period. It has weakened the crime-fighting and prosecutorial aspects of law enforcement because it has inculcated in the security forces a culture that says 'We can just go and detain somebody and hold them without any recourse through the courts,' ” he contended.
Golding rejected the notion that the Opposition is not in favour of dealing with the country's crime monster and stressed that, instead, it is prepared to cooperate with the Government on trying to find new and better solutions.
“We are willing to do that as soon as possible, but the reality is that taking away the right of our citizens so that they can be detained without charge for long periods of time is not the way to go. It degrades the human rights environment of our country, it undermines our constitutional protection, and it doesn't lead to better crime results,” Golding insisted.
He said the Opposition was therefore calling on Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Administration to resume the Vale Royal talks.
“We want to be a proactive and constructive Opposition that supports the crisis of national security. We believe that if we work on this together, behind closed doors where we can have open discussions about strategy and tactics, Jamaica will benefit from that. We are willing to do so. I hope he will accept this good faith gesture on the part of the Opposition and allow us to work with the Government for solutions,” he said.
At the same time, Opposition spokesman on national security Senator Peter Bunting said a “false” dilemma was being fed to the public to support the argument for SOEs, and that the Government is trying to shift blame to the Opposition for its failures.
“The Government has continued with, really what I refer to as a big lie. They make it seem that if you want to have police and soldiers in communities where crimes are spiking that you must have an SOE. That is not true. This sudden requirement that you have these SOEs is a fiction; there are adequate provisions in ordinary legislation for that to occur. We, therefore, will not be assisting the Government in perpetuating this fallacy,” he stated.
Bunting also dismissed talk about the absence of five Opposition senators from Thursday's vote as a red herring, pointing out that their position on the issue was already made clear, with or without a ballot.
He noted that seven senators were in fact present at the sitting, and the eighth was overseas on parliamentary business.
“Each person made clear their position individually so the fact that they did not stay late into the evening to actually cast a vote is really of no effect. Those who stayed way into the evening may have wanted to make a point for the parliamentary record,” he explained.