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House of Representatives Passes Zones of Special Operations Amendment Bill

The Full Story

The House of Representatives, on Tuesday (September 26), passed the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) (Amendment) Bill.

The legislation was designed with a view to facilitate social transformation and community development measures that are essential for public order and maintaining the rule of law.

In December 2020, a Joint Select Committee was convened to consider and report on the Act.

Through this mechanism, a comprehensive, stakeholder-informed review of the legislation was undertaken, the report for which was tabled in the Parliament in January 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, who piloted the Bill on Tuesday, said the Joint Select Committee’s work enabled “us to design a more robust and relevant Bill that is responsive to our current social, cultural and economic dynamics of those who reside in these vulnerable and volatile communities.”

Currently, Mount Salem, Denham Town, August Town, Greenwich Town, Norwood, Parade Gardens and sections of Savanna-la-Mar are designated Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs).

“All seven Zones continue to advance along the clear-hold-build path. Though they are at different stages, the people experience with immediacy the transformation of their community and the restoration of hope that comes with a ZOSO,” Dr. Chang said.

The Minister noted that the legislation is far-reaching and designed to take the work of government into several communities that are considered challenging and volatile.

“We have seven zones, three are in the build phase, the other four are still in the hold phase, and I know that the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) is looking at the required budget to expand that build phase into other areas,” Dr. Chang added.

He said data from the economic and social survey done by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), as well as Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) crime statistics, will be used to help determine where other ZOSOs will be established.

“I know that the expansion is anxiously awaited by many of our Members of Parliament (MPs) who have such communities,” Dr. Chang noted.

Regarding some of the amendments, the Bill proposes in Clause Four to increase the initial timeline in which a Zone is declared to be in force from a period not exceeding 60 days to 180 days.

“This will allow more time for the social-intervention objectives to be realised and provide a more sustainable environment for the maintenance of law and order,” Dr. Chang explained.

The Bill also seeks to amend the circumstances under which a zone can be declared in Section Four to reflect two distinctive categories, namely rampant criminality, or gang warfare or a high or escalating rate of violence, as well as threat to the rule of law and public order.

In respect of Clause Two, the Bill proposes the renaming of the Social Intervention Committee as the Social Transformation Committee.

“This amendment is being proposed, further to the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee, on the basis that the utilisation of the term ‘Transformation’ better reflects the nature and ultimate objective of the efforts of the Committee,” Dr. Chang outlined.

“Additionally, it is… proposed that the membership of the Social Intervention Committee be expanded to include a representative of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, as well as a member of the joint force who is trained in sensitivity to matters relating to gender-based violence,” he further stated.

The legislation also proposes that an offence be introduced for the breach of a curfew without reasonable excuse.

In this regard, the Bill proposes a fine not exceeding $1million in the Parish Court, and in default of payment thereof, imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.