Speech by the Prime Minister

Statement on Extending the State of Emergency At Parliament

The Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP

Prime Minister of Jamaica

Statement on Extending the State of Emergency

At Parliament

January 30, 2018


Mr Speaker the increasing violence in the parish of St James saw the number of murders in 2017 peaking at 335. Seeing the consequences of this on the citizens of the parish and the fear in which many persons were living, His Excellency the Governor General on my advice having been advised myself by security forces proclaimed a state of public emergency effective the 18th of January 2018.

Mr Speaker, the provision in law is that the Governor General may declare a State of Emergency for a period not exceeding 14 days. An extension of the period must be approved by both houses of parliament by resolution supported by a 2/3 majority of all the members of each house meaning, Mr Speaker, that it is not 2/3 of those who are present but 2/3 of the seats in the house.

The extension can allow for the continuation of the public state of emergency for a period not exceeding three months. The rampant criminality in particular violent crimes as well as the lottery scamming, trafficking and other illicit businesses are the event of an ecosystem of crime which is well resourced and interconnected with broad reach in the parish of St James through facilitators both public officials and private persons some of whom benefit from the status quo.

Mr speaker, this State of Emergency gives the security forces powers to detain, powers to search  premises, vehicles and persons without a warrant, powers to stop and question persons and powers to cease property. It allows them to control public gatherings and control movements. These additional powers allow the security forces through a suite of operations to bring the high levels of violence and murders under control and also to prevent the movement of weapons. The overall government response to criminal ecosystem has to be more sophisticated than solely direct action on criminal gangs. It must be extended beyond the JCF and the JDF to other enforcement arms in government whose efforts address unexplained wealth, public order in the towns, illegal construction, illicit businesses and many other matters that affect the rule of law. The security forces have shown through the conduct of the Zones of Special Operations and through the operations under the State of Emergency thus far that they understand the context and extent of the additional powers they have been given. They have executed their duties in a commendable way and are being meticulous and accountable in how they operate.

At this point Mr Speaker, I visited the space covered under the State of Public Emergency and interacted with various business interest, community interest, civic leaders and citizens and all have been very complimentary to the security forces; to the JCF and the JDF that the way in which they have operated is a credit to Jamaica.

I want to personally thank them, they are doing an amazing job with limited resources, and we acknowledge that. The conditions under which some of them are housed, their working conditions, their times, they are not fully resourced but they are not complaining Mr Speaker. They are doing the job that they swore to do which is to serve and protect and I want them to know that the parliament of Jamaica and I, speak both for the government and the opposition parliamentarians that we are all grateful for the job that they are doing.

Mr Speaker, someone commented to me that this is a sea change in how Jamaica has used its forces because by now you would have probably heard many complaints about the abuse of human rights. That we have had no major or serious complaints to date – knock on wood is a credit. We have paid as I said before in other presentations to this house, we have paid dearly for the lessons that we have learned and we cannot go back to the errors of the past. I think the security forces have learned that lesson, this government certainly has learned that lesson and so in declaring this state of public emergency we went to great lengths to make it known that the state of emergency does not mean the suspension of the rule of law and that any action taken with the state of emergency is not beyond or exempted from review, that the objective is to preserve life even the life of the criminal because this is how we truly show that Jamaica is a country that believes in the rule of law, the sanctity of life and the safety of all individuals. We cannot claim Mr Speaker, to want to enforce the law whilst at the same time breaking the law, so I think we should commend our security forces.

I’ve been following the reports in the media and Mr Speaker, and in the first few days I had some concerns because the challenge was that there was some amount of sensational reporting and some of it got into foreign media and as a result many members of our diaspora expressed great and grave concerns. I don’t know if members opposite had calls coming in from overseas raising grave concerns and I want to take this opportunity to say Mr Speaker that Jamaica is not in chaos. The country isn’t falling apart as some of the reports have been saying overseas. We have taken a deliberate, strategic, instrumental, well-planned action to ensure that law and order and the rule of law is preserved and we want our diaspora; the people who live overseas but have family here, people who send back the remittances, the people who love Jamaica but don’t really come here often they just go on the internet or they get some news in social media, we want them to be our voices in the foreign countries to say that everything is ok here. That the government has taken a step that is in support of law and order.

Mr Speaker, the local press have been since the first few days of the State of the Emergency have been following and I believe that they have taken a very responsible approach to reporting the events and the progress under the State of Public Emergency and I want to encourage them to maintain that stance of responsible reporting and keeping the public informed.

Mr Speaker it doesn’t serve the country if we make more of what actually happens because the brand Jamaica is what drives our tourism product and we took the action bearing in mind the possible impact. What we need to do Mr Speaker, is to make sure that we don’t create a feeling of hysteria or panic that is not the reality.

Mr Speaker the message that I was given from the members of the business community particularly the tourism community is that yes, we know that we will have to bare some pain but we don’t want to bare any pain that we don’t have to bare, so we must carefully manage the message and in touring the space Mr Speaker, I made sure to pass through some of the areas that the tourist would normally go and I’m pleased to report that they are out in their numbers, that the visitors are moving around quite freely. In fact the harassment levels have dropped. The buses are able to move much quicker from the port to the attractions because we’re seeing greater order, not just in pedestrian traffic but in vehicular traffic through Montego Bay, so there are some positive effects.

There was a complaint made about the time for entertainment being cut off at midnight. We have since reviewed it, that is the police, the joint command and they have made some concessions that I think will support the continuation of the entertainment product being viable in Montego Bay. We are being very sensitive to the business interests in Montego Bay and I don’t believe that there can be any complaint that we’ve unnecessarily affected business in Montego Bay. Nevertheless, the threat still exists. The gangs are still there, some of the notorious violence producers are still there and we have manged to contain the situation without bringing on as I have said Mr Speaker; unnecessary pain.

Confidence is being built between the public and the security forces. We need to support the security forces within the context that they will enforce  the law within the provisions of the law as we ensure a better future for our citizens for our citizens. While we acknowledge that there will be some disruption and fall out, we must take back control of our country. We must dismantle the networks of organized crime.

Mr Speaker, it was not anticipated that all that is required would be accomplished in fourteen days. It is reasonable to expect that even with extraordinary powers it will take some time to affect the situation in St James. As the intelligence picture is built and not only perpetrators but also we are building the intelligence picture on the facilitators as well and we will be targeting both the street level criminal and the facilitators. Mr Speaker, it is within this context that I’m bringing the emergency powers continuation resolution to this Honourable House to have the State of Public Emergency and the emergency powers regulations remain enforced until May 2, 2018.

Thank you Mr Speaker.