Members of Parliament last night (May 7) voted, by a margin of 44 to 1 with 18 absences, to extend the State of Public Emergency (SOE) in the western parishes of St. James, Hanover and Westmoreland.
Speaking on the Emergency Powers Resolution 2019 in Parliament, Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted that State of Public Emergency is a tool in assisting in crime fighting. He said the State must act to protect its citizens.
“Nobody can argue that 183 murders per one 100,000 is not an emergency when the regional average, which is the highest region in the world, is 16. Had we maintained the SOE; my view is that presently we would have brought, St. James [murder rate] way down,’ said Prime Minister Holness.
The Prime Minister presented figures from 2017 to 2019 on murders in the western parishes. He pointed out that following the implementation of the SOE in St. James in 2017, the murder rate for the parish declined significantly.
Prime Minister Holness noted that the security chiefs advised that 56 gangs were operating in the three parishes now under the SOE with 17 engaged in open war.
“Mr Speaker, where we are at now, I consider it to be a pivotal point. The reason why I think it is important for this Parliament to act in concert on this matter is that the abrupt ending of the States of Public Emergency under the conditions that it ended [previously] where we apparently were divided, sent the wrong signals to the criminals. They believe that the State was impaired. But I have news for the criminals. Mr Speaker, my sworn duty as Prime Minister is to protect the lives of people of Jamaica,” declared the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Holness said the Government has a plan to secure Jamaica. He said reducing the murder rate is one element of that plan.
“Right now, the strategy for the Government is to push the murder rate down. Our target is to get to what is considered, and I hate to use it, ‘normal’, in the region – 16 per 100,000. We have to set the target and work toward it. I am not saying Mr Speaker that this is going to happen in two years or three years. This is more like a 10-year plan – a decade long plan. And that is why we are making these serious investments. We have moved from two billion to 20 billion dollars. That is not an investment in the SOE – that is an investment in building a national security architecture that can adequately address the triple threat – guns, gangs and dons,” said Prime Minister Holness.