Statement by the Prime Minister

Presentation By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister In Parliament On the State of Emergency


To the debate on the resolution and where points have been repeated, I note them for emphasis. What I believe is being emphasized is what are the strong points of evidence to be considered by Members of the House in making the decision to exercise their constitutional right to approve the extension. Well, you have a right and if you choose to use it, you use it by duty. You may feel that you have a duty not to, but you still have the right.

Mr Speaker, the first point to consider is whether or not there is a threat to the right to life in certain areas of Jamaica. The constitution provides a benchmark is it on an extensive scale and if I could get the slide of the murders per hundred thousand for 2017 just to make the point particularly to the member from Central Manchester.

When the security forces and the Member from Central Manchester would appreciate this, that when they go to give advice to the government it is not on  a frivolous frolic that they do serious consideration of the intelligence that they have of the evidence that is before them and of certain knowledge of actions that have been taken or about to be taken and they make a recommendation and they do that and as prime minister having worked with three commissioners of police and two chiefs of defence staff I have the highest level of respect for their judgement and I would never believe that they would in any way make a recommendation that is not in the interest of the people of Jamaica.

What is put forward to us obviously some of it will be distilled because for security reasons and again as the member from Central Manchester would know and the Leader of the Opposition would know and the current minister of national security would know that you don’t give details of all the evidence that you have and all the intelligence you because you may reveal sources and methods as to how you come by them but the intelligence apparatus of the state along with your analysts along with the heads of your various divisions and the heads of the security forces put all the information together and they advise the government, in this case, we have structured that system of advice and decision making in the National Security Council where that goes through a very robust process of interrogation of what is presented so yes, I trust the advice of the heads of the security agencies but we put that through robust interrogation, the Cabinet looks at it and then we make decisions to recommend to the Governor-General. Now, Mr Speaker what was put before us that led us to accept the recommendation to pass on the recommendation for the proclamation of a state of public emergency.

Mr Speaker, there are fifty-six active gangs operating in the tri-parish region meaning St James, Hanover and Westmoreland; 56 active gang. The current feud over turf control involves approximately seventeen gangs so there are seventeen gangs at war with each other over turf in that region largely concentrated between St James and Westmoreland; most of it concentrated in the member from Western Westmoreland’s constituency.

The rivalry is played out with killings, reprisals and counter-reprisals and it goes back and forth back and forth but there is another situation which the member from Eastern Westmoreland, the member from Southern St James would be aware of that there are some rural communities that have been captured.

In other words, put it this way, there are areas of Jamaica where the state was not sovereign. It pains my heart to say it but the member from South St James and the member from Eastern Westmoreland who isn’t here would also say that; Retreat, Cambridge. Those areas in 2017 and the early part of 2018 were areas that were literally captured. It is the implementation of the SOE that gave us the…(Interrupted) 

Thank you, Mr Speaker, I promise I won’t belong. I’m just going to run through the points very quickly. You have the gang situation that you have to contemplate, and you have a situation where there are areas that have been captured. They’ve been captured by gangs but particularly for the Cambridge section, it’s a gang but you had two notorious figures who drove fear not just into the citizens but also into the security forces. I don’t want to go too far in it but the report- I stand here making these decisions not because it’s just I pick things out of the air. I’ve been appealed to by members on that side and members on this side who expressed the fear and when they are expressing that it’s palpable. We have real situations and I’m not trying to take away from the legal points raised by the member from Central Manchester, so you put those together but then there is a third element that you have to put together; the widespread nature of access to weapons so even if you’re not dealing with a gang situation weapons are widely available and used.

You have three situations that drive this level of above normal crime in Jamaica. The three elements as I’ve said before, it is the don, it is the gang and it is the gun so if you want to deal with crime in Jamaica you have to treat with the gang, the leader, the mastermind, the one who pretends to be messiah, the saviour, the Robin Hood and he stands apart from the gang or she. Then you have to deal with the gang which is slightly different because the gang is as much as a social construct as it is an economic entity. It is a way of life that they choose. They are recruited into it and then you have the instrument which has a particular fetish attached to it; the gun. People just want it because they have a love for it. Those three things are what is driving the abnormal levels of crime in Jamaica.

Now, put with that, so you have these three elements working and we can measure them, are they so expensive as to pose a threat to life? the answer to that if you look at 2017 is that on the wider Jamaica the answer is obviously no so if you look at the wider Jamaica in 2017 and you look at the parish of Portland and St Thomas, you look at St Elizabeth and Manchester you see that there are areas in Jamaica where the extensiveness of the threat would never support a state of public emergency. Those are within what could be considered within the powers of normal policing.

There is no emergency, there is no situation that is upon you that is over and above your capacity to address. regular policing can deal with the situation in Trelawny, in St Ann, in St Mary, in Portland, in St Thomas even in St Catherine, I still submit then that we were in a difficult position in Clarendon but if you look at Clarendon you will see where the concentration is and even then you wouldn’t take the entire parish, you could deal with areas of it clearly Manchester and St Elizabeth. That’s within normal so we’ve never called a state of public emergency that was not of an extensive scale as to threaten the right to life.

Where we have called it relative to the community that is at threat so if you looked at St James at a hundred and eighty-three you have a greater chance of being murdered in St James than being hit by a car in 2017. You have a greater chance of being murdered in St James then dying from heart disease, diabetes. If you are saying to me that this does not rise to the level where the state must not act with speed, alacrity, that the state must not act to preserve life then members I would have to ask then what is the role of government if this is not justifiable.

Mr Speaker, I make another point. There is no amount and the member is raising a point but still a point to be brought into the discussion. I recognize that everybody wants to go home now but Mr Speaker forgive me for being distracted. The member is saying instead of a state of public emergency pass the database legislation or do the other improvements to the security forces and that is not an argument Mr Speaker that doesn’t find favour with us but what the member is not putting into his calculations it is the nature of murders within the context of dons, guns and gangs.

If you look at the murder rate for Jamaica it is increasing almost exponentially, the curve is like this so in between there are troughs and peaks and troughs and peaks but if you were to normalize it you would find a curve that is increasing like this. Why?

It is because Mr Speaker that every murder generates a murder and then another reprisal so potentially if there is no intervention in a situation of murder you could have one murder generating three, four, five, six murders so the issue for law enforcement, when you’re seeing your murder rate skyrocketing aside from the regular policing things like investigating you have to intervene to literally keep peace and prevent retaliation and reprisals; that is the position that we’re in Mr Speaker and we see it. The moment we pull intervention the murder rate goes back to where it is. It is the experience Mr Speaker of a certain kind of policing in Jamaica where we believe and I’m making the point because the member from Central Manchester raised this business of extrajudicial killings and the police action in this regard.

Mr Speaker, extrajudicial killings do not solve the problem. If it is that we believe by taking out a don by wiping him out that somehow the murder rate is going to go down… Mr Speaker the point that has to be made is that the state cannot act like gangs themselves and therefore in the execution in the state of public emergency we have not sought to kill anyone but we have had even greater success in bringing down the murder rate.

Now, this as we have said before and we say it again is not a long-term solution, but it is a solution up until the point that you bring the murder rate down to a level where normal policing can operate. Let me put it another way, the police, as it is, has to deal with traffic and public order, they have to deal with investigations, they have to deal with VIP protection, they have to deal with marine security and you name it; all issues of security.

Now, the force doesn’t have more than about nineteen hundred investigators. Now you look at the numbers of crime committed and murders and pair that with investigators plus what has been backing up and you start to see that the argument that “investigate the crimes”, that argument falls away when you start to look at the factual realities. The same challenge faces the court because you say, alright bring them to the courts, but you look at the backlog of what the court has to deal with in order to deliver justice so that the deterrent effect can be had. We just simply can’t do it because there is this massive backlog so yes, these things have to be fixed, we have to get more investigators, but investigators are not shelf items, you don’t just go into the supermarket and pick up an investigator. That investigator has to be trained over many years so the strategy is yes, we have to do things in parallel but we cannot allow murders in particular to get out of control because the nature of a murder is that one murder begets three, four, five, six murders if there are no interventions and what we have learnt is that the intervention cannot be to kill the murderer so extrajudicial killing cannot be in any way sanctioned by the government or any other government.

The tool available to us is to acknowledge that we have an emergency and to the point raised by the member from Central Manchester, nobody can argue that 183 murders per hundred thousand is not an emergency; nobody can argue that when the regional average- the average for this region which is the highest region in the world is 16 so let’s go to 2018 again.

The SOE’s have changed the map significantly. We didn’t have an SOE in Hanover or Westmoreland but it has changed the map generally and I’m saying that it is clear that the SOE had a positive effect. If we forward to after the SOE to 2019 now, had we maintained the SOE my view is that presently we would have brought St James way down. As I said it’s my view. We would have controlled the Kingston, we would have kept Kingston and what is clear with St Catherine is that the SOE had a long-lasting impact, so St James’ Problem was far greater. The issues for us as  Parliament and where we are at now I consider it to be a pivotal point and 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 where we apparently were divided sent the wrong signal to the criminals. They believe that the state was impaired, but I have new for the criminals. Mr Speaker, my sworn duty as prime minister is to protect the lives of the people of Jamaica and when I go to sleep my conscience must be clear that I did everything possible to make sure that the people of Jamaica can go to their bed with their doors and windows open and wake up safe the next morning and we don’t resign from that because that should be the dream  that every single member of parliament have for Jamaica; we don’t resign from that but the member from Central Manchester pointed out in his speech, he said  that we should have done this a long time ago; words to that effect. You made a point which suggested that we should have done it long ago. When you say we I’m suspecting you mean Government should have done it long before; these interventions and a truer point could not be made. Had we intervened and I’m not saying with a SOE, but had we had some form of comprehensive intervention when we were at 800, take it, then we would have prevented crossing the thousand.

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, sixteen per hundred thousand, that is what we’re pushing for. It’s not going to happen…  (dialogue) Now, what I’m saying Mr Speaker and I can see members looking at it as laughable, but we have to set the target and work towards it. I’m not saying Mr Speaker that this is going to happen in two years or three years, this is more like a ten-year plan. It’s a decade long plan and that is why as you’ve mentioned we are making these serious investments, we’ve moved from two to twenty billion; 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. We’re not seeking to build an architecture or a machinery that only this Government can implement. It must be the architecture any Government can go in the driver’s seat and keep; just hold the staring and you get to your destination; that is what we’re building.

Mr Speaker, I think this is a very useful debate for the country to pay attention to and to get information. I now put it to the House for its favourable consideration and vote. May it please you Mr Speaker.