Declare more SOEs, O’Brien Chang urges Holness Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

One of Jamaica’s leading businessmen and public commentators, Kevin O’Brien Chang, is urging Prime Minister Andrew Holness to declare states of emergency (SOEs) for another 14 days when the current SOEs that were declared for seven parishes on November 15, expire on Tuesday.

O’Brien Chang urged that course of action in an interview Saturday. His pleadings for another declaration come against the background of Friday’s vote by Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) senators not to support an extension of the emergency measure.

“If you have a measure that is legal and effective and proven at saving lives, it would be a dereliction of duty for any prime minister to not implement those measures,” declared Chang.

“What is more important than saving lives?” he asked.

The public commentator went further, declaring that, “if he (Holness) does not bring back the SOEs in some way, I will lose all respect for him”.

Arguing that the SOEs, if sustained for a period of at least two years, could break the back of the crime monster that sees Jamaica with a homicide rate of more than 40 per 100,000, O’Brien Chang said “this is a now or never moment for me”.

He was particularly peeved that the “no” vote by the eight Opposition senators came despite pleas from the church and a significant number of private sector organisations – including the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association (JMEA), the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ), the MSME Alliance, and several chambers of commerce – for the Opposition to support the proposed extension.

A two-thirds majority is needed in both houses of Parliament for a SOE to remain in force after the initial two-week declaration. With the Government holding 49 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives, that threshold was easily reached last Tuesday when the motion to debate the extension was approved with 44 Government members voting yes.

With the Government having 13 of the 21 senators in the upper chamber, at least one Opposition senator would have had to vote with the Government membership on Friday to keep the SOEs in place until January 14, as Holness intended.

In making its case for the SOEs to be continued, the Government pointed to a 70 per cent drop in the murder figures since the latest declaration. Holness told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that in the first seven days after the declaration, murders fell to the lowest one-week total since 2015.

He also pushed back at the PNP argument that the SOEs are unconstitutional, insisting that this is not the case, and that there has been no court ruling to that effect.

O’Brien Chang argued that Holness is a popular prime minister with a “massive mandate” and a public that is “begging for SOEs”. He argued further that the security forces have been trained to properly carry out their functions during a SOE.

“This moment may never come again if he doesn’t seize it,” said O’Brien Chang.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Yet, despite his expressed position, it may be easier said than done for the prime minister to continue to declare SOEs without the support of the Opposition, as this was not contemplated by the constitution.

In fact, during Friday’s debate, Opposition senators Peter Bunting and Lambert Brown both told the Government that while it needed the support of the Opposition to extend a SOE, it alone has the authority to declare one. They both suggested that rather than scapegoating the Opposition, the Government should go ahead and declare SOEs as often as it wished.

But that argument was shot down as being unconstitutional by Government Senator Ransford Braham, a noted constitutional figure. According to Braham, it was improper advice tinged with hypocrisy. He also dismissed it as a trap and “foolishness”.

O’Brien Chang is insisting that Holness should make another declaration.

“Let somebody come challenge it (in the courts),” he said.

He added that the onus is on the prime minister to “tell us why he wouldn’t do it”.

In making the case for the SOEs to remain in force over the long-term, O’Brien Chang stated that there are three periods in the country’s history when murders were reduced and the numbers remained relatively low over an extended period.

He listed the period following the “near civil war” that characterised the 1980 General Elections, the SOE that was declared in 2010 when heavily armed gunmen clashed with the security forces as they tried to prevent the capture and eventual extradition of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, and the 2018 SOEs.

Meanwhile, O’Brien Chang suggested that having been soundly beaten by the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the 2020 General Elections when the PNP won just 14 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives, things could be much worse for the Opposition the next time Jamaicans go to the polls to choose their Government.

In noting that polling over the last 30 years consistently shows that crime is the number one concern for Jamaicans, O’Brien Chang said the PNP is guaranteed no more than four seats next time around, if it does not change its national security posture.

During her contribution to the debate on Friday, Opposition Senator Donna Scott-Mottley said: “We have made a decision and we stand by it”.

The SOEs were declared for sections of the southern arc of Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon and the tri-parish area of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland following rises in the murder figures.