KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has written to Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips proposing a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crime situation in Jamaica.
In the December 31 letter, Holness said his administration views the “current crime situation as an existential threat to the security of the country and a national emergency of exceptional public importance”.
He said while the security measures put in place so far have resulted in a 22 per cent decline in murders and a 22.3 per cent reduction in shooting incidents “the national murder rate remains high at approximately 46 per hundred thousand which is three times the regional average” bearing in mind that the Latin America and Caribbean region has the highest homicide rate in the world.
In the letter proposing the meeting, Holness reminded Phillips of his December 18 letter in which the Opposition Leader said that the powers granted under the Emergency Powers laws were available under other laws.
“As a former Minister of National Security, you would be aware of, and no doubt utilized yourself these special powers in regular legislation, outside of the integrated and synergetic legal framework of the Emergency Powers Act. You would also be aware that none of these “normal solutions’ have yielded a sustained and long-term reduction in murders and crime generally, hence here we are today,” Holness wrote.
He said that Phillips had also questioned, based on legal advice the constitutionality of the state of public emergency (SOPE) being extended, adding “while I do not share your views….that “in current circumstances ”any extension of the SOPE would be unconstitutional and illegal, I should like to hear from you the circumstances in which the Opposition considers it constitutional and legal for the SOPE to be extended and also to gain a better understanding of your suggestion that special powers can be used just as effectively, outside of the SOPE”.
Phillips expressed willingness to meet
Holness said he had also taken note that the Opposition Leader had expressed a “willingness to meet with me to discuss and arrive at consensus regarding solutions to the problem” and as a result was proposing a meeting for Wednesday.
The letter from Holness followed a war of words in the public domain between the Office of the Prime Minister and the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) over the crime situation.
Recent meeting with various stakeholders
In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister noted that Holness had met with various stakeholders on Monday in an intense planning process to maintain the security gains and the safety of the citizens of Jamaica.
It said that focus is being placed on ensuring that plans are in place for the improved safety and security of the citizens and that Prime Minister Holness would be completing a series of consultations with the security chiefs after which, or if possible earlier, he would finalize a letter to the leader of the Opposition.
The government said although Dr Phillips accepted the invitation to meet, he has “flatly rejected the purpose of the meeting, which is to discuss the extension of the state of emergency.
National security is not a football
The Government does not wish to make security into a political football, nor do we wish to engage in meaningless talk. The Government has always sought a united position on security matters and would welcome the cooperation of the Opposition, even at this late stage. However, such cooperation must be genuine and meaningful,” the Office of the Prime Minister noted.
The PNP said that it has noted the contents of the OPM’s statement and does not wish to enter any controversial exchange with the prime minister or his office.
But it said it regards the government’s assertion that Phillips responded negatively as not only factually incorrect, but giving an impression that what was expected was a rubber-stamping of the Jamaica Labor Party’s position.
PNP ready to discuss national security issues
The PNP said there is nothing to be gained from making national security into a political football and that it remains ready, as always, to discuss any and all national security issues, within the context of the provisions of the Jamaican Constitution and the vote of the Parliamentary Opposition in the House of Representatives on December 12, 2018.
The opposition party said the attempt at one-upmanship is neither necessary nor helpful in the present situation, as it is firm on its position, which was arrived at after careful consideration of all the constitutional and human rights issues, as well as the usefulness of states of public emergency over an extended period.
The Opposition further reiterated that all the security operations, except for arbitrary detention, can be maintained.