Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness has declared a State of Public Emergency for the western parish of St James.
At a press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said he made the recommendation for a state of public emergency to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, who has since signed a proclamation dated January 18.
“The proclamation has been gazetted and a state of public emergency is now in effect for the parish of St James” said Holness.
Several sections of the crime-infested parish of St James are now saturated with members of the Jamaica Defence Force. Among the affected areas are King Street, Cottage Road, Rose Heights, Cambridge, Norwood and the Trelawny–St James border.
The operation is said to be the Government’s response to the marked increase in murders and shootings in St James.
The Prime Minister stated that under the state of emergency, the security forces have been given extraordinary powers and some rights have been suspended.
“This does not mean that the use of these extraordinary powers are arbitrary or beyond review. This does not mean the suspension of the rule of law. The security forces are expected and have been directed to treat citizens with respect and protect the dignity and safety of all.”
The prime minister, who was flanked by National Security Minister Robert Montague, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, Commissioner of Police George Quallo and Chief of Defence Staff Major General Rocky Meade while making a presentation at Jamaica House a short while ago, assured that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.
“We ask the public to cooperate with the se security forces. Now is the time, if you know where the guns are, please tell us. If you know where the criminals are, please tell us,” said Holness who added that the “rewards for guns programme” is still in effect.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck acknowledged, as did the Prime Minister, that some ordinary rights of citizens might be suspended during the period of emergency, but sought to assure that public that suspension of rights did not mean abuse of the human rights of the citizen.
National Security Minister Robert Montague also appealed to residents of the parish to cooperate with the security forces in their operations.
“We will be relentless as we pursue the criminals,” he told the conference cautioning that as citizens travel they will be subjected to searches.
“Now is the time to tell us who the gunmen are, they are a danger to you and your community,” he urged.
Police Commissioner George Quallo declared in support of the decision to impose the State of Emergency.
“There are numerous gangs operating in St James. They are involved in murders, shootings, scammings, extortions and other illicit activities. They use murder as a tool to further their criminal interest, they create an atmosphere of insecurity throughout St James and surrounding areas,” he said.
The Commissioner said the key operational objectives of the security forces were to disrupt the activities of these gangs.
“One of primary activities is also the protection of the rights of citizens. We will be going after wanted men, seizing weapons and taking place our communities. We want to ensure the public that the security forces are there for your protection,” he explained.
Quallo also noted that a hotline has been established for citizens to register their concerns and get information about activities of the security forces.
Since 2016 when the upsurge in violence began in St James, there have been calls for a state of emergency. However, there was resistance by some sectors including tourism and the government last year instead opted for the Zone of Special Operations in the community of Mount Salem.
However, Prime Minister Andrew Holness explained that the government factored tourism into the equation and considered the effects that the state of emergency might have on the industry. He assured that stakeholders in the tourism industry have given their support.
He has also sought to explain why it took so long for the state of public emergency to be declared in the parish of St James, in which he indicated that this kind of planning takes time and that action must be aligned with resources and other variables in order for it to be successful.
“The Government has been contemplating this action for some time,” the Prie Minister stated.
“This is not an action that can be taken in an arbitrary way. It requires a great deal of planning and it is not just an action for show. It is an action where we have to plan out both the opening and the ending game and that kind of planning takes time but more importantly it takes resources to be behind it and I believe that we are now at the point where the actions are now aligned with resources. But there is one other important alignment. The Government cannot act without public support and as the person in charge of the Government and given the context in which we are calling this state of emergency having gone through one in 2010, we must always be considerate of what happened before, we must make sure that we learn from the errors and that this is not something that is arbitrary. It is not done in an arbitrary way. This is an instrumental, well planned out action. And yes it took some time. Some persons may have felt it should have happened a long time ago, but I am now of the view that this has happened when we have an alignment of all the variables to make this operation successful,” he added.
The Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) revealed it fully supports the Prime Minister.
“The escalation of violent criminal activities is taxing on the entire country, discouraging both domestic and foreign investments, reducing competitiveness, and resulting in the reallocation of critical resources. Without firm and resolute measures to combat this disease of crime, all other efforts to achieve economic growth will be futile, and Vision 2030 will remain a dream,” JMA said in a release this afternoon.
“This shameless attack on our society needs to end, and we agree that St James, which recorded the highest number of murders in 2017, is the ideal place to start. However, both the Government and Opposition need to have consensus on the initiatives and outcomes, and it is with this in mind, and a great sense of urgency, that the JMA is calling on the Opposition to stand by the Prime Minister’s decision.”
“As the organization that represents over 400 manufacturers, employing over 77,000 Jamaicans, the JMA is only too well aware that the country’s crime level significantly impacts the private sector’s development, investment climate and the quality of life for all our people. We will continue to lobby for stern, effective and prompt action.”
“We, however, take this opportunity to caution the military and police that even while we forthrightly tackle this scourge of crime, we militate against unwarranted use of force.”
The JMA said it looks forward to the relevant authorities putting united ideas and decisions into action to address the country’s crime problem, and stands ready to assist in any way possible.
Last year, some 335 murders were recorded in St James and at least four people have been murdered in that western parish since the start of the year.
There have also been several reports of shootings in the parish.
On Wednesday (Jan 17), Andrew Holness says laws will be put in place to deal with the one per cent of Jamaicans who are seeking to destabilise the country “once and for all”.
Speaking at the launch of Fontana Pharmacy’s 50th anniversary celebrations, in Mandeville, on January 17, the Prime Minister pointed out that “99 per cent of Jamaicans are decent, law-abiding, upstanding people who want to see this country grow and prosper”.
“Over the past months, I have been observing public discourse on this matter. It is an emerging view that now is the time that the Government should take firm and resolute measures within the context of the law, the preservation of human rights and the dignity of life. We have reached the point where we are now prepared to take those firm and resolute measures,” Mr. Holness emphasised.
Mr. Holness said the resolute measures are to ensure that the “crime monster” does not destabilise the promising future that is in store for Jamaica.
The proclamation for the state of emergency, unless revoked, will remain in force for fourteen days or for a period not exceeding three months as determined by a two-thirds majority of the Houses of Parliament.
A State of Emergency related to crime and violence was last imposed in a section of Jamaica eight years ago during the operation to capture the fugitive Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, which covered Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine.