Government fails to get support for extension of state of emergency

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Dec 12, CMC – The Jamaica government late Tuesday night failed to get support for its efforts to extend the state of emergency (SOE) in place since January 2017 after opposition legislators voted against the measure the government said was necessary to curtail crime and violence across the island.
“We don’t need a state of emergency to feel safe,” said Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips as the 20 members of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) voted against the move.
The ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government needed a two thirds majority to give effect to the extension of the SOE with all 33 government legislators voting in favour following a lengthy debate to extend the measure by three more months. When the vote was taken 10 legislators were not present.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, had during his contribution pleaded with the opposition to support the crime fighting initiative, noting a 20 per cent reduction in murders island wide, and in some areas like Montego Bay, 70 per cent, among the positive results.
“We need more time,” Holness said, making reference to letters from the heads of the security forces requesting a 90-day extension.
He told Parliament that there was a plan to exit the SOE as he responded to criticisms by opposition lawmaker, Mark Golding.
We have been saying, show us how we are going to exit this thing (SOE), and you haven’t done it. Right now, you are just saying we need more time. You need more time to do what? You haven’t told us what you are going to do,” Golding had said.
But Prime Minister Holness said “we do have a plan to end the state of emergency but we cannot give up the strategic advantage to say when,” adding that since the SOE was imposed, murders have been reduced by 72 per cent and shootings by 63 per cent.
Holness said that the decision of the opposition is not balanced and doesn’t adequately grapple with the problem.
He described as “hypocritical” and “opportunistic” their position of making reference to the poor detention conditions as a basis for withdrawing support for the states of emergency.
“Your vote is going to put some person at risk of losing a relative or their own life,” Holness said.,
But the Opposition Leader said while the opposition was prepared to support any reasonable measure, the state must provide all necessary security services, cordon, searches, seizures and arrests.
Phillips cited several concerns that have been raised about the states of emergency, including the constitutional rights of citizens.
He told legislators that the legal opinion is that that the SOE could be unconstitutional, as well as a report by the public defender which indicated that only four per cent of the nearly 4,000 people detained by the security forces have been charged with any serious crimes.
“We have sought legal advice and we believe the extension can be challenged in the courts,” he said, indicating that the country has “been this way before”.
Phillips said for too many years the security forces have pursued a model of policing that has been “abusive of the basic rights and dignity of the ordinary Jamaican.
““How can we justify feeding detainees dry bread and tea and keeping them in cages while spending $17 million on the sign in the same location and eat $130,000 cake?” he said in apparent  reference to the findings of the comprehensive audit of state-owned oil company, Petrojam by the Auditor General that was tabled in Parliament last week.
“We stand ready to support any reasonable measure, but we cannot support a further extension,” Phillips said.
The SOE had been imposed in several areas including St. James, Kingston Western, Kingston Central and St Andrew South as well as St Catherine North.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told legislators that she was saddened that the opposition would not support an extension of the security measure.