House passes extensions to SOEs, ZOSOs by narrow margin

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House passes extensions to SOEs, ZOSOs by narrow margin

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The House of Representatives on Tuesday night approved resolutions extending the life of three current states of emergency (SOEs) and the two Zones Of Special Operations (ZOSOs) by a single month.

However, the extension times are not expected to affect the targeted areas while Parliament takes its Christmas break to return in late January, as they will continue into February.

The SOEs affected are: the St Andrew South police division; the tri-parish coverage of Hanover, St James and Westmoreland; and the bi-parish coverage of Clarendon and St Catherine.

The Government opened debates last week expecting Opposition support for the two ZOSOs — Denham Town in Kingston and Mount Salem in St James — to be extended by another 60 days, and the SOEs by another 90 days.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness opened the debate on the SOEs while Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang opened the debate on the two ZOSOs. However, with the prime minister currently overseas it was left to Dr Chang to pilot all five resolutions.

But, after Dr Chang had re-opened the debate the Opposition immediately tore into the request for the usual 60-days and 90-days extension, by exploiting the weaknesses in the programmes and the fact that murders and robberies have not subsided in some targeted areas.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips said that the Government's current anti-crime operations did not need more than “cordons and curfews”, which did not require a state of emergency or the detention of citizens for interrogation.

“You are making it look hard, and it is not that hard. It is tough, but not that tough,” Phillips argued.

He said that the Government has kept going back and forth with Parliament for the extensions, without showing the anticipated results.

He said that the Opposition would only agree to the 30-day extensions, while the Government produce information of the 70 gangs it has been targeting, as well as details of its proposals and strategies to reduce crime and violence.

He said that the Opposition wanted to see “real policing strategies”, as he suggested that the current strategies were not taking the country any closer to a solution.

He was supported by Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson, who not only reiterated his call for a $100,000 pay package for the police, but also accused the Government of failing to give the country “a sense of safety”.

Opposition spokesman on education Peter Bunting called the Government's efforts “one of the biggest waste of public resources” he has ever seen.

He told the House that he would not be supporting any extension, and urged other members of the House not to hold on to their current positions but to come to their own conclusions from the available data and follow his example.

But the Opposition was criticised by Kingston Western Member of Parliament and Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie for only highlighting the negatives of the projects and failing to offer any alternative solutions in the process.

Eventually, Dr Chang agreed to reduce the request for the normal extensions to one month, and the Government scraped home by the 42 votes necessary for the two-thirds majority required to approve the extension in the 63-member House of Representatives.

The resolutions are expected to be debated on Friday by the Senate.

Balford Henry

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