Opposition votes against SOEs despite pleas
A soldier at a state of emergency checkpoint in St Catherone last week (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

OPPOSITION People's National Party senators on Friday soundly rejected the Government's all-out plea for one vote from that side, denying the two-thirds majority that was needed in the Upper House, in order to extend the states of emergency across seven parishes, for 46 more days.

The debate ended with all eight Opposition senators voting no against the Government's 13 ayes.

"I'm asking for one vote; I'm asking for the ability of our security forces to use the constitutional powers granted to them. I'm asking about the power that your oath has given you and the lives that you can save. I hope we can count on one vote together with ours," urged Leader of Government Business in the Upper House Kamina Johnson Smith towards the end of the heated debate, which went on for hours. Opposition senators made it clear throughout the sitting that the one vote was not to come.

Senator Damion Crawford told the Senate that, "having given multiple yeses, today is a definite no," while Government Senator Matthew Samuda pointed out that Jamaica has a murder rate eight times the global average and three times the regional average. "As an adult I have never known an absolute murder number in Jamaica less than 1,000. It is also that the way we have implemented this measure and used this tool available to us in the constitution, has saved lives.

"It is so painfully obvious that this is required," Samuda stressed, "we are asking the members of the Opposition to listen to what the people of Jamaica want."

In her argument, Government Senator Natalie Rodriques Campbell said for senators it would be audacious to go against the people, whose will on the issue has been conveyed through Members of Parliament. "How dare us, who were appointed, go against that? We are basically saying we know better than the people of Jamaica, and we also know better than the head of the JDF and the JCF — what has made us think that we know better than all those people? I can't in good conscience challenge what is asked of us by the security forces of this country," she stated.

Furthermore, she said, "I urge those who are so fervent in their belief that personal feelings are more important than saving lives be bold, be strong, and let history remember that you voted against it. Don't walk out of here early today so that you're recorded as absent — sit in that chair and vote no, let history remember you for who you are."

"Don't blame the Opposition. The failure of a state of emergency to exist belongs on the Government side…all eight of us will be here when the vote comes," Senator Lambert Brown retorted, "and all eight of us will resoundingly say no, so you can prepare your next speech, because where the shame belongs is on the Government who has the power under the Constitution to reimpose a state of emergency next week when this one fails for lack of two-thirds majority".

Senator Brown said the provision for detention without warrant among others, were of particular concern, as well as the fact that there was no mention of the right to counsel when persons are held: "They not going after the dons, they're not going after the 300 violence producers," he argued.

Calling for unity, Senator Don Wehby (Government), in a brief intervention, also pleaded for one Opposition vote, "I'm therefore asking at least one Opposition senator to vote yes, so that we can save lives."

Senator Peter Bunting, leader of Opposition business and a former national security minister, pointed out that in the 2011 debate, on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, the SOE procedure was considered a last line of defence to protect the State against the subversion of the constitutional order of democratic governance, not a routine measure.

He emphasised that what the Opposition's contention is that certain conditions must exist both upon the declaration and on every extension of the SOE. "We have no say on the declaration, but on the extension, we have a say. Even if the conditions exists upon the declaration but the SOE is successful [but] upon the renewal those conditions no longer exist, then the Opposition should not support an extension," he said, pointing to the Government's declarations of the success of SOEs over the years, "so that would mean that even if the circumstances existed upon the declaration the circumstances would not exist now upon this request for extension".

He said the Opposition believes there can be much more targeted legislation to fight crime, the framework for which leader Mark Golding will make public.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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