Senate to debate SOE resolution today

THE Senate is expected to meet today to approve regulations for the states of public emergency (SOEs) in the parishes of St Ann, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew, St James, Westmoreland, and Hanover, which the Government declared on December 28.

The Upper House last met on December 5 as it sought to push through a resolution for the extension of the previous set of SOEs which were declared in November, for another 46 days. As their colleagues had done in the Lower House in the days prior, Opposition senators blocked the move with eight nays, denying the Government the two-thirds majority which it needed to carry the motion.

This was despite the outright pleas from the Government side.

“I’m asking for one vote; I’m asking for the ability of our security forces to use the constitutional powers granted to them. I’m asking about the power that your oath has given you and the lives that you can save. I hope we can count on one vote together with ours,” urged leader of Government business in the Senate, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. The Opposition senators made it clear that their side would continue to similarly reject all future SOE extensions.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding has maintained into the new year that the People’s National Party (PNP) would not support the sustained use of SOEs to quell crime, and has since indicated that it will seek the court’s advice on the matter.

He dismissed the recent SOEs as, “an attempt to circumvent the limits that the constitution intended to place on the prime minister’s powers. Based on advice received, I believe that it is likely that the court would declare this recent practice to be unconstitutional.”

Prime Minister Holness said based on intelligence about various planned nefarious activities, the Government had made a pre-emptive strike by declaring the SOEs in December. He also dismissed criticisms about the intended shock value, and waning thereof, of the SOEs: “By now it would be apparent that it is not my intention to talk bad, and to shock people into not doing illegal and criminal things. That is of no value to a criminal. If criminals believe that all you’re doing is talking, they would never change their mode of operation. I’m done with that. The SOE is a legitimate tool, that we will refine and use it as sparingly as possible but as effectively as possible within the law to save lives. So those who hold out the SOEs for shock and awe, are those who are still in the old mode of the SOE that believe that somehow the Government is eager to have these powers to deprive generally he citizenry of their rights. Nonsense.”

The current SOEs will hit their two-week expiration mark on January 11, prior to which the Government would need to seek Parliament’s approval, if it intends to extend the measure.

— Alphea Sumner

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