Gov't opens debate on amendments to aged Emergency Security ActsThursday, October 21, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Minister of National Security, Dr Horace Chang, challenged the Opposition in Parliament yesterday to indicate to him when, in the Opposition’s opinion, a security issue warrants a state of emergency declaration.
He raised the issue as he opened the debate on the Amendment to Emergency Powers Act
After reading out to the House of Representatives 2020 murder figures, Chang inquired: ”If these murder rates do not signal a security emergency that warrants an emergency security response, then at what point do we accept that we are in an emergency?”
The questions were drawn from the fact that the Government’s hands are tied by the response of the Courts, the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) and the private sector's consensus to some of its plans to increase the use of the military and more stringent measures to deal with the deadly gangs operating across the island.
But, there was no response to his questions yesterday, as the Opposition had already informed Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, that they were not prepared for a debate on an Amendment to the Emergency Powers Act and the Consequential Amendment to the Emergency (Public Security) Act which he is piloting through the House.
Dr Chang informed the House of Representatives that in 2020, murders within the Area Four police division were 77 per 100,000 in Kingston Eastern; 197.3 per 100,000 in Kingston Central; 172.8 in Kingston Western; 77 per 100,000 in St Andrew South and 78.5 per 100,000 in St Andrew Central.
He noted that the regional average for murders is 17.2 per 100,000 and the world average is 6.1 per 100,000. At the end of 2017, the murder rate in the parish of St James alone was 186.5 per 100,000.
“At what point do we, as a society, concede that the level of violent crimes has attained public emergency status?” he asked his colleagues in the House.
“We have been engaging in these discussions for some time now, with the Government being asked to justify utilising emergency security response in what can only be described as a violent crime disaster. In July 2020, the Government and Opposition signed off on a National Consensus on Crime. I recall that the occasion was met with much public interest and public approval.”
He continued: “Madam speaker, the terms of the consensus document were meticulously reviewed and agreed upon by all the relevant stakeholders, including civil society, academia, private sector, and the Opposition. It was considered and agreed that there are circumstances in which the use of emergency security response would be appropriate and necessary.”
Dr Chang quoted the consensus agreement and underscored, “We will support the use of the military, as permitted by law, in geographic areas where the homicide rate is above 32 per 100,000 (that is two times regional average), where the JCF determines it is incapable of controlling this violence with their current resources and capability, and the commissioner of police along with the chief of staff of the Jamaica Defense Force agree that it is necessary.”
He said that 32 per 100, 000, which exceeds the regional average, was the benchmark agreed by all stakeholders, “and yet, with the murder rates as they are now, the Opposition wishes to debate whether or not we are in fact experiencing a security emergency”.
Using the example of Mount Salem in St James, which was declared as the first Zone of Special Operations in September 2017, Chang said that the residents are now experiencing a record low in the number of violent crimes that take place within their community.
Murders and shootings have shown a significant reduction in the order of a 73 per cent decline in murders and 81 per cent decline in shootings.
“Madam Speaker, Mount Salem is the model for the sustainable crime reduction and meaningful social transformation that this Government has embarked on. I have heard the call from several Members of Parliament for the declaration of a ZOSO within their constituency. The fact is, Madam Speaker, through the use of the states of public emergency, the security forces utilise intelligence to detain killers, while they build the evidence to prosecute,” he said.
“I have heard the concerns regarding mass detention of citizens, but Madam Speaker, that has not been the case. Upon ending the states of public emergency in August 2020, the police had 240 persons in custody. About 50 per cent of them were charged and the others released. Many of those released have been contributing to the inter-gang violence,” he explained.
“The fact is, Madam Speaker, the most volatile communities require an emergency security response, to clear the space ahead of bringing in the social and infrastructural redevelopment activities. SOEs save lives. This Government has been utilising a combination of different security measures to respond to the crime situation in Jamaica. In some instances, we will require and utilise emergency security measures in order to cauterise the killing and save lives. Similarly, we continue to prioritise,” he stated.
Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, said that the amendments will be made to The Emergency Powers Act and The Emergency (Public Security) Act, which were enacted in 1938 and 1939 respectively and which are long overdue for much-needed reform.
He said that the Ministry of Justice is taking steps to undertake reform of these and similarly outdated laws.
He said that the Legal Reform Department is being re-engineered to increase the resources required to take a more proactive role in law reform. Within the next few weeks, the submission will be made to Cabinet to approve the plans for re-tooling of this department.
Concerning the Bill before the House, Chuck highlighted that their submission to the Parliament yesterday was further evidence of his mission to update our laws.
“The amendments are small but important. We are constrained in our plans for further reform at this point because, as you are aware, there is an appeal in the Court of Appeal that touches and concerns the application of the Emergency Powers Act,” he explained.
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