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Business community split on back-to-back SOEs

President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) John Mahfood has indicated that he would not support the Government implementing back-to-back 14-day states of emergency (SOE) to circumvent opposition resistance.

Like Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang, Mahfood believes that doing so without opposition support would not be in the interest of good governance.

“I would be against that because I don’t think that would be the intent of the law that says two weeks after, you can ask for an extension with the agreement of the Opposition, but had they not gotten it, you then go and do it again.

“I believe that that would be a mistake on the part of the Government,” Mahfood said in a Gleaner interview.

On Friday, opposition senators blocked the Government’s effort to extend the November 15 SOEs spanning seven parishes for an additional 46 days. The Government required at least one opposition vote in the Senate to maintain the measure beyond the initial 14-day period.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown reminded counterpart lawmakers on Friday that the Government does not need the Opposition’s support to implement an SOE, only to extend it.

“It is not in the Opposition’s hands. We can vote to stop the extension, but we can’t vote to stop you from declaring it,” he said.

But Mahfood insists that such an approach would be an exploitation of power by the Government.

“What that would be saying is that if the Government had gone to Parliament and asked for the extension, they would have not gotten it and that they are going to take advantage of the facility that allows them the day to call a new one,” he said.

The JMEA was among the 15 private-sector groups that urged opposition senators to support the SOE extension.

Mahfood said that he understood that the measure could not be used indefinitely but that his support of the extension was based on statistics that showed that crime was reduced in areas where the crackdown was imposed.

The group of 15 said that police data showed that 12 murders were committed during the first week of the SOEs – a more than 50 per cent fall.

Mahfood also theorised that SOEs would stem the anticipated spike in crime in the lead-up to Christmas.

Constitutional issues

Meanwhile, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), Michael McMorris, expressed disappointment with the slow pace at which the constitutional issues surrounding SOEs were being addressed by major political stakeholders.

He asserted that the Government had “more than enough time to meet the commitment it had made to address the outstanding issues and get the Opposition on board”.

While emphasising that these were his views and not necessarily those of the JCC, McMorris said the Government has his backing with whatever mechanism it uses to fight crime, including back-to-back SOEs.

“If that is the tool the Government can use within the Constitution or with the consensus, then we are in full support of it,” he said. “They need to do what is necessary. The Opposition may challenge them on particular points, and those points must be resolved as quickly as possible.”

But president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, Archbishop Kenneth Richards, believes that both political parties are “playing politics” with the country’s crime problem.

In a Gleaner interview, he charged both parties not to allow “politricking” to prevent them from addressing the constitutional stalement on SOEs and to discuss and implement feasible recommendations.

“This is a recurring theme with respect to every time the SOE is to be extended. There have been problems and challenges that were identified, and it is sad that those were not addressed previously to the current proposal for an extension. It is unsatisfactory that both parties cannot recognise that this is a serious challenge that we’re facing,” Richards said.

Residents in Parade Gardens, Olympic Gardens, and Riverton City, where SOEs are in force, said that they already felt uneasy at the news that the security measure could be lifted imminently. The SOEs expire at midnight on Monday.

Plagued by crime and violence, residents say they feel much safer in their communities with the heightened security presence.

And with the Christmas holidays approaching, some say they are now even more afraid.

“So when dem move it and the shot dem start fire and di pickney dem start dead, dem a guh put dem back? Dat no mak no sense,” Brittney ‘Mumzel’ Williams, of Parade Gardens, said.

“Christmas a come, and di pickney dem a go wah go outside and enjoy demself, but parents going fraid fi put on dem pickney clothes pon Christmas ‘cause dem a go wonda when the next move a come.”

A resident of Riverton City, who gave his name only as Shawn, said that while the increased security presence has not rid the community of violence, things would have been far worse.

“The police and soldier dem haffi deh inna di community ‘cause violence inna di community. Without dem inna di community, the place woulda be a worse,” he said.

That notion has been challenged by the Opposition, which has argued that a policy of community saturation, or the imposition of zones of special operations, can achieve the same goal of heavily manned streets.

They argue that the Government’s zero-sum platform - either SOEs or nothing at all - is a cop-out on its national-security obligations. Soldiers can operate in tandem with the police in ZOSOs or in regular patrols.

But the nuance of that debate does not appear to matter to community folk.

Sarah ‘Ilene’ Lewis, who is also from Riverton City, which falls within the St Andrew South Police Division, told The Gleaner that businesses are losing out because of crime. She foresees them being further negatively impacted when the SOEs are lifted.

“Mi feel it not supposed to be lifted. It fi go right through the Christmas season up to next year because di people dem a go fear and no activity nah go on inna di community,” she said.

And a nurse from Olympic Gardens, another St Andrew South community racked with violence, said she feels much safer coming in from work on the late shifts knowing that soldiers are present in her community. She is already dreading their departure.

“Dem fi deh ya. The place is violent. When I’m coming home at night, I’m afraid. But when they are here, you have more people feel safe to walk,” she said.