The House of Representatives last night approved a 41-day extension of the state of emergency (SOE) declared on June 14 in the Kingston Central and Western police divisions.
The extension means that all five SOEs spreading across the island will conclude on July 25, and therefore will require extension at the same time. They are extended for three months on each occasion after being passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate by a two-thirds majority.
There were early indications that the Opposition might have sought to separate itself from the partnership which has seen the extensions through on each occasion. But, in the end, about 10 Opposition MPs voted with the Government to ensure a total vote of 44 in favour, enough to make the two-thirds of the 63-member House of Representatives.
“Story come to bump. It can’t go on forever no more,” Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips argued before the vote, noting that the SOEs had become a symbol for the Government, “giving an impression that crime is going down”.
He told the House that, in the meantime, funding — which was readily available to the Government when it took office, mainly from the European Union — had been allowed to lapse.
“Funds were available for support from the international community. It was allowed to lapse under this Administration and all we have in return is state of emergency, state of emergency, and state of emergency,” Dr Phillips stated.
“We have made the point again and again that the constitution did not design the declaration of states of emergency as a long-term measure. That is not to say it can’t be used. But at every point we have said let’s have discussions on this matter and proceed and, quite frankly, the hand has been spurned,” he said.
“What we are saying is that the strategy to confront these criminal actions that are running rampant in the society must involve more than just the states of emergency, and the declarations, especially when it is proving not to have the desired effect,” he added.
Dr Phillips informed the House that Opposition MPs had decided that they will treat the matter as one of conscience.
“Every member on this side is free to vote their conscience on this matter, because really there are so many fundamental issues of strategy, of people’s right, of effectiveness, of constitutional rights that arise with this approach that an enforced consensus that is more apparent than real will not carry us forward,” the Opposition leader said.
“What we are saying, Prime Minister, is that there is a basis for discussion. There is a basis for sincere, courageous, honest debate about the strategy carrying the country forward, but it cannot proceed on the basis of an e-mail the night before the debate, contradicting assurances about how we were going to approach it,” he added.
Phillips was supported by Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson, who had accused the Government of trying to push through the measure without properly notifying the Opposition.
Jackson insisted that a resolution to extend a state of emergency was too important for the Opposition to be informed of by e-mail the night before the debate, without time to discuss the issues among its members in the House.
He said he had also been given the impression by the Government, just prior to the start of the proceedings at Gordon House yesterday, that the resolution would not have been taken.
This led to an apology from Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang for the late advice.
Newly appointed Leader of Opposition Business Peter Bunting, and veteran Opposition MP Anthony Hylton both criticised the lack of social intervention in the communities under the SOEs.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted that the SOEs were not expected to have a long-term impact on crime, but are used sparingly to ensure short-term, immediate impact on crime whilst the investments that are being made can “take root and bear fruit”.
“I believe that we have done so successfully and already there has been notable progress in the willingness of citizens to partner with the State to remove the presence of violence producers, wanted persons and illegal firearms,” Holness said.
He said additionally, citizens have understood the necessity of the measures and have been largely supportive of the initiative.
He said that on his visits into the SOE areas he found that the people in the communities appreciated “that the State is mobilised in defence of their lives and livelihood”.
The resolution will next be debated in the Senate.