KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thursday May 2, 2019 – Business and hotel interests in western Jamaica say they are in full support of the declaration of States of Public Emergency (SOEs) in the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland.
They say that while it is never the most ideal of situations, it would have been impossible to sit idly by and allow the wanton and despicable behaviour of criminal gunmen to continue “and do nothing”.
“The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), like the rest of the country, has been informed that SOEs have been declared for the parishes of St. James, Westmoreland and Hanover,” said JHTA President, Omar Robinson.
“While our membership would have preferred not to have to deal with the negative publicity that this measure will cause in the tourism marketplaces, particularly those of the USA, Canada and the UK, we fully understand that this action has been precipitated by the return of an unacceptable level of shootings and murders in western Jamaica,” he added.
Robinson said to that end, “the JHTA puts its full support behind the Government” in its effort to bring this unacceptable state of affairs under control.
“We also must make it clear that this measure must not be squandered. It is no secret that we, like many other well-thinking Jamaicans, thought the cancellation of the last State of Emergency (in St James) was premature. So since we are at this place once more, we strongly suggest that the Government and the Opposition must work together so that this initiative, along with other anti-crime measures, will be successful,” he said.
For his part, President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry Winston Lawson said his organization has found the unequivocal action taken by the Government to cauterize what has been a significantly worrying trend of high crime in St James, “necessary”.
He said that while the Chamber recognizes that there will be challenges “for some of our members and the business community”, with respect to constrained business opening hours, “we are of the view that the security forces are now well up the curve with this tool,” adding that consideration should be made for more relaxed opening hours for businesses.
President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce Richard Wallace said the increased presence of security personnel will help restore law and order in the resort town. He noted that crime and violence had been steadily becoming mainstream in Negril, to the detriment of the business community and its people.
“At the very least, we would want to see it pushed back because it is getting into mainstream too much. The criminals are brave and brazen. They seem to not have any respect for anybody, the law or businesses,” he said.
And interim President of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, Moses Chybar, argued that the SOE will provide all the necessary resources to effectively combat the various criminal elements that have become a plague on the good people of the parish.
“There seem to be quite a large number of incidents over the past few months and years, so the stricter measures are definitely needed, so the assistance is welcome,” he said.
The Chambers of Commerce pledged to cooperate with the security forces and the Government in whatever way that will ensure not only the protection of the business communities but the people of the west.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the SOEs on Tuesday. Unless previously revoked, they will remain in place for 14 days or for a period not exceeding three months.
“After careful consideration and review of the crime statistics, in particular violent crimes which have been committed in some western parishes, the security forces have advised that the current situation would warrant the Government advising the Governor-General to declare/proclaim States of Public Emergency,” he said.
According to data, between January 1 and April 28 this year, 29 persons were murdered in Westmoreland; 27 persons were murdered in St James and 18 persons were murdered in Hanover. Last year, 97 persons were murdered in Westmoreland; 84 persons were murdered in Hanover and 55 persons were murdered in St. James.
During the SOEs, the security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, restrict access to places and detain people without a warrant.
A State of Public Emergency was first declared in St James on January 18, 2018 but ended on January 31, 2019 after the Opposition refused to support any further extensions.