KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday December 12, 2018 –The Jamaica government was dealt a major blow in its crime fight late last night when it failed to get sufficient votes in Parliament to extend States of Emergency (SOEs) in place in three crime hotspots since earlier this year.
Even with several of the 30 Opposition Members of Parliament absent from the House of Representatives for the vote,the People’s National Party (PNP) was able to prevent the Andrew Holness-led administration from continuing with the crime-fighting measure, which means the SOEs will expire in January next year.
A two-thirds majority – 42 ‘yes’ votes – was required for extensions in the SOEs in St James, Kingston and the St Catherine North, and although all 33 Government MPs were present and voted in favour of all the extensions, 21 Opposition MPs in the Lower House voted against the 90-day extension of the SOE in St James and 20 PNP MPs – with the other 10 absent – voted against the other two extensions.
The first SOE introduced this year on January 18, in the parish of St James, will therefore end on January 31, 2019. The SOE in St Catherine North, imposed on March 18, will lapse on January 2, 2019; and the measure implemented in Kingston Western, Kingston Central and St Andrew South police divisions, which began on September 23, will cease to be legal on January 7, 2019.
Prime Minister Holness had pleaded with the Opposition to support the extensions, reporting that there had been a 20 per cent reduction in murders across the island. And specifically in St James,he added, since the SOE was imposed, murders were reduced by 72 per cent and shootings by 63 per cent.
“We need more time,” Holness said, citing letters from the heads of the security forces requesting the three-month extension.
“We do have a plan to end the State of Emergency but we cannot give up the strategic advantage to say when.”
But Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips disagreed that the SOEs were vital. “We don’t need a State of Emergency to feel safe,” he said. “We stand ready to support any reasonable measure, but we cannot support a further extension.”
He noted that only four per cent of the nearly 4,000 people detained by the security forces had been charged with any serious crimes. The Opposition Leader also contended that the SOEs could be unconstitutional.
“We have sought legal advice and we believe the extension can be challenged in the courts,” Phillips said.
Despite the lack of agreement on the need for the SOEs, the Opposition voted with the government to extend the zones of special operations (ZOSOs) in Mount Salem, St James, and the west Kingston community of Denham Town.
Under the Law Reform (ZOSOs) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, which was passed in Parliament last year, security forces have special powers, including searching places, vehicles or persons with or without a warrant.
The ZOSOs legislation gives the prime minister power to declare an area a ZOSO in order to tackle increased crime and volatility, in consultation with the National Security Council. The zone can only be established after the Police Commissioner and the Chief of Defence Staff make a written request to the prime minister for such declaration.