Opposition Leader Mark Golding says that as its senators refused to lend support for an extension of the states of public emergency (SOEs) yesterday, the Andrew Holness-led Government should focus on other tools as murders continue unabated.
Delivering on promises not to support an extension for SOEs after its declaration, five of the eight Opposition senators left after making their presentations in the Senate on Thursday (November 25). Senator Gabrielle Morris, away on national duties in India, was also absent, while the remaining two voted ‘No’ to a continuation of the measure.
Golding, addressing the media at his West Kings House Road offices on Friday, said while the Government chooses to denigrate the Opposition’s stance and label its minority caucus as ‘traitors’, the unconstitutional nature of SOEs in the context of sustained crime-fighting is unquestionable.
“Yesterday in the Senate, our [Opposition] Senators decided they could not support the extension of the current states of emergency. First of all, we regard the use of the states of emergency as a failed strategy. What we have seen is that murders in the country have continued to be at very high levels,” he began.
“We are aware that the balloon effect is real; hardened criminals leave the areas in which states of emergency are declared, move into other parts of the island and the murder rate continues, on a national level, to be elevated,” Golding continued.
A two-thirds majority in the Senate, requiring at least one Opposition vote in favour, was needed for the SOE extension, which currently covers police divisions in Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, South St Andrew, Kingston West, Kingston Central and Kingston East.
Were the Government successful in its extension bid, the SOEs would have continued for another three months. The measure, announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Sunday, November 14, officially comes to an end this weekend.
“We do not feel that [the SOE] measure can be pursued any further because it has not delivered results and its constitutional status has been questioned in the court. That question has not been answered because the Government has appealed the habeas corpus ruling of the Supreme Court—and the Court of Appeal has not yet ruled on that matter,” he argued.
Golding again called for the resumption of Vale Royal talks, following appeals made last week. The People’s National Party (PNP) president said he had also done so earlier in February without response from the Holness administration.
He stressed the importance for Government and Opposition to find “common ground” around the strategy to deal with the “terrible, chronic problem” of violent crimes.
Among the matters requiring urgent attention are amendments to the Anti-Gang legislation, which Golding said have yet to reach Parliament, as well as enhanced surveillance provisions.
“The legislative agenda [is] not keeping up with the needs of the society to modernise law enforcement and techniques to support the national fight against violent crime and this is one the major pitfalls of the Government,” Golding told journalists.
“What we have been advocating for is a more balanced approach to national security where greater efforts are made to get to the root causes of our [crime] problem. Why is it that so many of our youths end up pursuing that path? What has happened to early childhood development, parenting, the primary school system? Why is it so many youths are not qualifying for any CSEC subjects after years in secondary school? We need to really get to those issues by investing in our young people, investing in our school system,” the opposition leader added.
Golding, who was also joined by Opposition spokesperson Lothan Cousins and leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Peter Bunting, told journalists the PNP is concerned that the Government, after five years in office, “has not come up with a strategy that does not involve suspending the basic rights of the Jamaican people”.
“It is a falsehood to say that the JCF and [JDF] soldiers can only be deployed in a state of emergency. The laws of our country provide for the JDF to be used in support of the police and they have been used for many years. Now that the states of emergency will be coming to an end, we call on the Government to ensure that the soldiers remain in the communities that are troubled and continue to support the police there as is authorised by law,” Golding declared.
“What we do not support, is the powers, which are only supposed to be used in emergency situations: when the State is threatened by insurrection, or some cataclysmic event, where people can be detained without charge and held for long periods without any proper recourse. This has been a problem for the states of emergency,” he contended.
He disclosed that the Opposition is willing to sit with the Government and discuss strategies for dealing with the national security crisis.
“Some of these are tactical and cannot be discussed publicly, but we would like to be part of the solution and we are willing to aid the Government in dialogue around that,” Golding said.
“I’m calling on the Government to continue to focus its efforts on the troubled areas using the JDF in support of the police, as is authorised by the Defence Act and the Constabulary Force Act. What we cannot support is the serial, long-term use of states of emergency, which we believe violates the constitutional seam—the bedrock of our rule of law in this country. We can’t support it because it has failed and it is a very dangerous strategy to be pursuing on a long-term basis, when we know that it doesn’t work but it involves suspending the basic rights of our people,” the PNP leader added.
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