Opposition Spokesman on National Security, Senator Peter Bunting, has described as “political theatre”, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ declaration of states of emergency (SOEs) in seven parishes.
“… This is not about law and order. This is not about reducing violent crime. This is about political theatre and political propaganda; the main core competence of this Andrew Holness-led Administration,” declared Bunting on Wednesday.
Holness, at a press conference on Tuesday, cited the increase in murders and gang activities as justification for the security measure across the southern arc of Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine and Clarendon, and the tri-parish area of Westmoreland, Hanover and St James.
However, Bunting is pushing back against the latest use of the SOEs as a crime-fighting tool, even amid hope expressed by Holness that the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) would support the measure, given that he said some of its own parliamentarians had appealed to him (Holness) for help with crime in their respective constituencies.
“It’s reasonable to conclude that the declarations of the states of emergency across a number of parishes is the prime minister performing political theatre,” insisted Bunting in a video statement that has been shared by the PNP.
He said National Security Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Horace Chang, in trying to build interest for Sunday’s Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) annual conference, had indicated weeks before that Holness would “announce something”.
At the time, Chang, the JLP General Secretary, had stated that the prime minister would be unveiling the Government’s plan to tackle crime.
Bunting also took a swipe at Chang for his “continued management-by-excuses approach to his portfolio”, arguing that from last weekend the national security minister has been “willing to go back seven years to say that we (the PNP) didn’t fund the police adequately.
Dr Horace Chang
“In fact, he (Chang) copied the defund the police slogan that is popular in the USA,” the senator claimed.
“… But the truth of the matter is, we could all see this building up to try and create some interest in their (the JLP’s) conference.”
Arming himself with purported police statistics, Bunting said since this year, Kingston and St Andrew have been among the few parishes in which significant reductions have been seen in murders and shootings. According to him, murders were down by 17.5 per cent, while shootings decreased by 23 per cent.
“Yet, a state of emergency has been declared in Kingston and St Andrew. So, even by the JLP’s justification of using it to address increase in violent crimes, this doesn’t qualify,” Bunting maintained.
He said, “curiously”, murders in St Elizabeth, Trelanwy and Manchester have increased by more than 70 per cent so far this year, yet SOEs were not declared in any of those parishes.
“The Opposition has long held that the routine use of states of emergency as a tool of policing is unconstitutional. The courts have upheld that view in at least two cases, one of which is now before the Court of Appeal.
“We would have anticipated that the Government, out of respect for the judgments of the court, would not have continued this unconstitutional use,” stated Bunting.
Pushing back at Holness’ hope that the Opposition would support the current SOEs and any extension to be sought by the Government, Bunting said the JLP leader, while in Opposition, purportedly stated: “‘This (crime-fighting) is not a whole-of-society-approach; this is the responsibility of Government. There is a lot that can be done!'”
Seven years later, said the former PNP Member of Parliament (MP), “We still haven’t seen what that ‘lot’ is from the prime minister.
“… And now, he (Holness) is constantly seeking to deflect responsibility from himself – the figure in authority – to the Opposition.”
Bunting charged that the country is now “fed up” with such an approach, pointing to the JLP Administration’s time in office for 11 of the last 15 years.
“Stop trying to blame others, or as former Opposition leader Keith Rowley (in Trinidad and Tobago) said: ‘When a Government is constantly blaming an Opposition for their failure to perform, it’s time to go,” Bunting concluded.