AN unapologetic Prime Minister Andrew Holness stared down his critics on Wednesday as he announced that states of public emergency (SOEs) have been declared in eight parishes where intelligence suggests a serious crime threat exists.
“We will use this tool as long as there is a threat to life and property…and on so extensive a scale that they will deprive citizens of their rights and freedom,” declared Holness at a media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister Wednesday morning.
Critics, including members of civil society and the parliamentary Opposition, have bashed the Administration for what they claim is its baseless and incorrect dependency on SOEs to address Jamaica’s crime problem which includes 1,481 murders so far this year.
But Holness was dismissive of these claims as he announced that SOEs had again been imposed in St Ann, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston, St James, Westmoreland, and Hanover.
The entire St Andrew is also covered under SOEs as the police division of St Andrew North, which was not included last time around, is caught in the net this time.
“Last year December, there were 127 murders committed in Jamaica, if we were to annualise this that would mean a murder rate of 56-per 100,000. That is unacceptable in any country, by any standard, by any means. So after studying the situation carefully and being seized of the data and intelligence which showed a similar trend this year, the Government acted reasonably and decisively to save lives and to preserve the freedoms of ordinary citizens,” Holness said.
“The Government will continue to be relentless in our efforts to control murders specifically and crime in general. We will continue to use all measures available to us.
“We will use the SOEs when necessary. Criminals and criminal masterminds can take no comfort that the time for declaration is short. We are and we will continue to use all lawful powers within our means to control crime and to save lives,” added Holness.
The prime minister argued that the SOEs have resulted in sharp declines in murders whenever they have been imposed and challenged the critics who have charged that the overuse of this measure is making it less effective.
“The states of public emergency are an immediate strategy that works and they work every time that they are imposed,” said Holness.
According to the prime minister, the SOEs work because the measure gives the security forces that power to go after people where intelligence indicate that they are involved in major crimes but there is not enough grounds to charge them.
“We are able to separate from their communities and interrupt their cycle. Secondly, the SOEs give the security forces more options in the deployment of [resources]. It brings on board the JDF with powers of policing, it allows for independent operations in the policing space…and that acts as a force multiplier,” said Holness.
He underscored that it is not the intention of his Administration to use SOEs forever but argued that the constitution provides for this measures as needed.
“But in the modern world, our constitution needs to be upgraded so that those powers can be easily and effectively used when the circumstances require them,” said Holness as he challenged the position of the Opposition which has decided not to lend its support in Parliament for the extension of the SOEs.