Bunting insists Opposition did the right thing with state of emergency vote

Bunting has insisted that the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) was following the tenets of the Jamaica Constitution when senators under his column voted against an extension of the latest state of emergency last Friday.

The Government failed in its bid to get approval from at least one of the eight Opposition senators when it came down to a vote to continue the measure, and the tool used as a crime-fighting effort, which was introduced two weeks ago, will now end next Tuesday at the climax of the 14 days allowed by law, following its announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Bunting, who is Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, and a former minister of national security, maintained in an interview with the Jamaica Observer that the right decision had been made by his side of the political divide, although the 13 government senators disagreed, vehemently, with the stance.

The vote followed an overwhelming “yes” to an extension from Government members in the House of Representatives in Jamaica’s seat of Parliament, Gordon House, last Tuesday.

“The constitution contemplates a state of emergency as something that is a last resort which is used when the normal functioning of the State is threatened — when, for example, your courts can’t function in the normal way,” Bunting said. “So, for example, in 2010, with the whole Tivoli operation and events leading up to that, and police stations being firebombed, police being ambushed and so on, would be the sort of event that a state of emergency would contemplate.

“It had never been contemplated for it to be used as a routine tool of policing. If it were, it would never require the cooperation of the Opposition because safety and security is a central role of Government, of the Executive. You could not put a routine tool of policing in the hands of the Opposition. It is because it is something that is rare and exceptional that even an Opposition should recognise the gravity of the situation and support it why there is that safeguard of people’s rights. Essentially, you suspend their rights under the Charter of Rights. It is because of that exceptional nature of its use why that safeguard is built into the constitution,” Bunting argued.

He added: “Previously, the Charter of Rights in 2011, which was promoted by the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party], only required a simple majority of the whole House and a majority of the Senate, which didn’t require Oppisition support. So the very fact that it was changed to require that shows that it was never contemplated that it should be a normal routine use of policing,” the businessman and former Member of Parliament said.

Bunting referred to the court matter in recent time of the Everton Douglas v the State case in which Justice Bertram Morrison made it clear that the circumstances did not exist to warrant the declaration of a state of emergency – a point that was made clear in the judgement. Douglas was detained under the state of emergency in January 2020 for 177 days without being charged. Other men also took the Ministry of National Security to court for a similar reason, and Justice Morrison ruled on September 18 that same year that their detention was unlawful.

Aside from the constitutionality of the state of emergency, Bunting also cited the effectiveness of the measure as something that has not worked.

“Once a state of emergency becomes something that is routine and every day, it doesn’t have the sort of shock and awe that it would initially have had when it is rarely used,” he insisted. “And we saw after the second or third renewal of the state of emergency in 2018 that the results were diminishing. And even though it was used between 2018 and 2022, they have never in one year had as low a year when we [PNP Administration] had in the period 2012 to 2016 when there was no state of emergency while we were in Government.

“In fact, the average number of murders in any year between 2012 and 2015 was about 1,120, and the average number since that is over [is] 1,400. How can you then state repeatedly, as the prime minister keeps gaslighting the country, that states of emergency work? They just don’t.

“The rank and file police are not in favour of it…they know it’s a waste of time. You stop at any of those checkpoints where you see miles of cars being delayed for hours and you pause at the police and soldiers who are there and you ask them, ‘What is the point of all this?’ They tell you that it is pointless, but they are following orders.

“It is just PR [public relations]. Why would any gunman or wanted man sit for hours in a line at the checkpoint, knowing that he could be caught when he can divert and go around.

“Somebody sent me a video at the checkpoint at Green Pond, at the border of St James and Trelawny, where there was a breach. There is a housing scheme beside the checkpoint, the buses and taxis were just diverting through the housing scheme and bypassing the checkpoint, and persons were asking the police, ‘You don’t see what is happening over there?’ and one would say, ‘Well, I can’t leave here. My instructions are to stay here.’ So it’s almost comical,” Bunting said.

He said that in Kingston and St Andrew this year murders were down by 18 per cent and shootings down by 23 per cent without a state of emergency.

“You should be targeting the police divisions with the highest increases — St Elizabeth with 70 per cent, Manchester 70-odd per cent, Trelawny 80-odd per cent… where there are no states of emergency,” Bunting maintained.

He was more receptive to zones of special operations (ZOSOs), which have also been used by the security forces in an attempt to reduce crime and violence.

“ZOZOs were contemplated to be an interim step between normal policing and a state of emergency. They have worked, because in a ZOZO you can saturate an area with police and soldiers and, in particular, the soldiers can operate autonomously. In normal times soldiers have to operate with the support of the police. Both in the ZOZOs and states of emergency soldiers are allowed to operate independently.

“The ZOZOs, for example in Central Kingston — a small area with a high murder rate in 2021 — Imani Duncan [PNP parliamentary spokesperson], who is on the ground, begging for a ZOSO, she was supported by myself and the leader [Mark Golding], and eventually they put a ZOSO in place and murders are down by 30-odd per cent.

“So a ZOSO lends itself to containing a particular area where murders are spiking. The concept of the ZOSO is that you would bring in social investment to back it up so, over time, change the complexion, the culture of the community by getting young men employment, training, and so forth,” Bunting stated.

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