Gov’t unlikely to seek extension of SOEs

LEADER of Government Business in the Upper House Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has given assurance that the Senate will not be asked to meet before its accustomed time next week to facilitate debate on an extension of the current states of public emergency (SOEs) which were declared last month in eight parishes.

The question was raised by Opposition Senator Lambert Brown at Friday’s brief meeting of the Senate, where the emergency powers regulations for the SOEs were tabled.

“Given that the gazette re the SOEs was proclaimed on the 28th of December, is it the intention to call the Senate back before next Tuesday when they expire to seek an extension? I’m asking because it came up on us sudden, almost like a thief in the night today,” Brown stated.

The SOEs will expire on Wednesday, January 11 if no extension is sought from and approved by Parliament.

“It is not my intention at this time to recall the Senate any earlier than it would normally be scheduled,” Johnson Smith told the Senate.

She pointed out that the regulations are effective once they’re made and gazetted, and that the tabling is a matter of process which the Government continues to use. The regulations are to be tabled next in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

At the Senate’s previous meeting on December 5, Opposition senators voted unanimously against a 46-day extension of the SOEs which had been declared in November, denying the Government the two-thirds majority which was needed to carry the motion. The current SOEs are for the parishes of St Ann, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew, St James, Westmoreland, and Hanover. There are no clear indications whether the Government intends to seek an extension or allow the measure to expire.

Since the SOEs were first imposed by the Andrew Holness Administration in January 2018, beginning in St James after the parish recorded a historic murder high of more than 330, the Opposition has continued to posit the unconstitutionality of the indefinite use of SOEs as its main reason for not supporting the measure.

In his rejection of the Government’s efforts to have the November 2022 SOEs extended to January, Opposition Leader Mark Golding argued in the House of Representatives that the repeated use of SOEs by the Administration over the past four years had been a subversion of the country’s constitutional order, which he would not support because it was inconsistent with the parliamentary oath. He also cited court cases which he said have seriously questioned the constitutionality of the SOEs.

Speaking at the announcement of the declaration of the current SOEs at Jamaica House on December 28, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang stressed that the regulations have been reconfigured to ensure that law-abiding citizens are protected, and the lawless restricted. He argued that, “The charter of rights was never designed to prevent the use of SOEs, it was designed to prevent abuse by any Government. The law-abiding can rest assured that the net fishing practices of times past no longer applies to today’s security operations. All the required measures have been put in place to prevent the violation of human rights,” he said.

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