The Jamaica parliament has approved an extension of the states of public emergency (SOE) even as Opposition Leader, Mark Golding, argued that the measures were unconstitutional.
Golding was among two legislators who voted against the extension, while 15 other legislators, including 13 members of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) were not present in the Parliament late on Tuesday night when the vote was taken.
The government had received the support of 46 legislators.
National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, had tabled the resolutions namely the Emergency Powers (Parishes of St. James, Westmoreland and Hanover) (Continuance) Resolution, 2021; and, The Emergency Powers (Specified Areas in the Parish of Kingston and St. Andrew) (Continuance) Resolution, 2021, which required a two-thirds majority so as to ensure the extension beyond November 28.
The Senate will meet on Thursday and Friday to debate the issues and the government would need the support of at least one opposition legislator for the two-thirds majority needed to go into effect.
Golding told legislators that he saw no long-term benefit from the SOEs during their three years in operation, urging instead that the government engage in bipartisan talks to deal with the crime situation in the country.
“In the meantime, we need to work together and we are willing to work with the government,” he said, arguing also that the SOEs were unconstitutional, and should not have been revived while the constitutionality of the extended detention of some detainees was still before the Appeals Court.
“We have come too far to give up our basic rights,” he said.
However, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that the SOE were working when they were brought to a sudden halt by the Court ruling.
“The SOEs work, and if you were to take the analogy of the SOEs being the emergency measures that we have taken during the pandemic to slow and control the spread of the virus, you would effectively say that the SOEs have flattened the curve. That’s what they have done.
“It is not meant, and no one on this side has ever said that the SOE is the silver bullet. That’s not what we have been saying. The SOEs cannot replace conventional policing. This is a point on which we agree. The SOE, however, is a tool to attenuate the situation. To bring it to yield, to allow for conventional policing to work,” Holness told Parliament.
“I don’t think that the country should be deprived of the use of these tools, when they are clearly defined as to how they should be used, and especially when it is clear that this government is making every effort to ensure that the rights of citizens are protected.’
Prime Minister Holness said that what his administration wants from the SOE are the power of detention and the use and deployment of the military to allow for a more strategic and tactical use of the security forces in the campaign against crime and violence.
“The supreme interest is to protect the lives of our people, and that is not of academic interest,” he said, telling Golding “you have said that you are not supporting the SOE, because they are unconstitutional.
“As the minister of justice and others have said, there has been no such ruling. So, the position of lack of support for the SOE must be more than just a conviction. It is probably a strategy to ensure that the Government does not have full use of a tool that would result in the reduction of murders in the country,” Holness said.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte said it was “plainly false” to say that the new regulations violated the Constitution and dismissed claims by opposition legislators that Parliament could not amend laws while the matter was pending appeal, citing an October 31, 2016, judgment by the Privy Council.