President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce Oral Heaven is not impressed with the Government's decision to declare another state of public emergency (SOE) in St James.
Addressing the launch of the Solar All-Inclusive Breakfast Party last Thursday, Heaven urged the Government to explore new approaches when there is a flare-up of violence in the parish.
"Our parish is currently under a state of public emergency that was declared two days ago. Now the business community is concerned that this is the tool that we run to whenever there is a flare-up. There must be something else that we can do," argued Heaven .
He said while any measure to tackle crime is welcomed, SOEs have been having an adverse effect on productivity in St James.
"Last evening [Wednesday] we had our members' meeting and one of the concerns expressed by the members was that the state of public emergency sort of dampens productivity," added Heaven, who noted that a major part of the SOEs are border checks that come with long lines attached as security personnel carry out their searches.
According to Heaven, these checks only serve to impede law-abiding citizens, instead of the criminals.
"They [criminals] are not stupid. Why would I wait in a long line of traffic to be taken out and be locked up? The criminals will not go through those lines, so is it productive to have those long lines and then prevent the tourists from going to the hotels, prevent sick people from going to the hospital?" questioned Heaven
He argued the authorities should consider other mechanisms in addressing the crime situation that continues to plague the country.
"What we are asking is for the powers that be to rethink the strategies, rethink what you do as it relates to the states of public emergency.
"We are not saying we are against the SOEs. And do not for one minute, or one second, think that; we welcome any means to dismantle gangs and neutralise criminal elements from our society. What we are saying [is] that we need to use other tools in the arsenal to fight this monster," declared Heaven as he called for the introduction of the proposed Enhanced Security Measures Act.
"This tool would allow the police and the military to use emergency powers that are above the capacity of regular law enforcement to address crime situations. This proposed law is being advertised as a major tool to empower the security forces to disrupt criminal networks, reduce violence, and increase public order," he stated.
Heaven argued that while the proposed legislation would not have that fear factor that the SOEs have on the general society, it will provide a sense of peace to communities while the law enforcement agents carry out their duties.
The Montego Bay Chamber head also called for more support for law enforcement in the parish to ensure that the work which the police and soldiers are doing can be carried out in an effective and efficient manner.
"When we compare where we were last year with where we are today, murder is down but we are still too high. One murder is one too many, and having over four murders in one day is a serious concern to the business community. Our police are out there and are willing to take this bull by the horns but they need the resources necessary to fight and win," said Heaven.
Last Tuesday the prime minister announced SOEs for the parishes of St James and Clarendon for an initial period of 14 days, beginning midnight on March 14.
"Organised gangs remain a threat in these parishes," said Prime Minister Andrew Holness. "Although there have been some successes in reducing murders through strategic and tactical security operations, more needs to be done. As we acknowledge this, the Government will continue to use all tools at our disposal to protect the lives of our citizens of Jamaica and dismantle the threat to law and order."