Government Senator Don Wehby, has argued that states of emergency (SOEs) would have created a dent in the country’s high homicide rate if they were still in force.
However, the Andrew Holness-led Government was forced to abandon its main security measure following a Supreme Court ruling in September 2021 that the extended detention of five men under the declared SOEs was unconstitutional.
Then, in June this year, the Constitutional Court awarded approximately $18 million in damages to Roshaine Clarke, the 29-year-old taxi operator who sued the Attorney General for wrongful detention under the SOE that was declared for the parish of St James in January 2018.
The court, in its landmark decision, also declared as unconstitutional, the Emergency Powers Regulations governing SOEs.
On Friday, while making his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate, Wehby said he understood and respected the court rulings.
But, he said “I still maintain that the SOE has its place as a strategic tool to fight crime. I believe the SOEs would have reduced the current spike in crime if they were still in place”.
Wehby said he also respected the argument about protection of the rights of individuals.
“(But) what about the rights of the over 1,000 persons who have been mercilessly murdered each year? What about their right to life?” he asked rhetorically.
Wehby, who is also Chief Executive Officer of GraceKennedy, told the Senate that in the 27 years he has been with the food conglomerate, he has attended many meetings with the nation’s leaders, including all prime ministers during this period.
“Except for a few years when the national debt was the number one item on the agenda at these meetings, crime was the number one item over those 27 years,” Wehby noted.
He cited that Jamaica’s homicide rate of 46 per 100,000 is the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean and is similar to what transpires in a civil war situation.
The government senator expressed the view that there was a strong correlation between the high level of debt the country has experienced over many years and crime. He pointed out that in financial year 1991, Jamaica’s debt to GDP ratio peaked at 232 per cent
“So basically, we were borrowing to repay our debt. If the country was a business, it would have gone bankrupt. We didn’t have any money to invest in education, fighting crime, providing better healthcare, housing for our people and developing the country’s infrastructure. We were on the verge of being a failed state,” Wehby said.
He cited that the 1990s were commonly referred to in the history books as the FINSAC era when interest rates were as high as 60 per cent.
“Jamaicans lost their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation to do business,” he said. He added that “Jamaicans have worked too hard and public sector workers have made too many sacrifices for us to reverse the gains made to reduce our debt and improve our economic outlook”.
That gain, he said, was achieved over the last decade with political determination and political unity in our economic policy. As a result, public debt has been reduced from 145 per cent of GDP in financial year 2012/2013 to 91.5 per cent in financial year 2019/2020.
“I’ve made this point about the reduction in debt because we are moving in the right direction in terms of the economy. In other words, because we have less debt the Government can allocate more resources to spend on social services and the vexed issue of crime.
Despite the current state of affairs, Wehby said there was a lot that was right with Jamaica.
“I can say with confidence that I know every parliamentarian on both sides wants to see a safer Jamaica where citizens can live in peace and enjoy our beautiful country. The question I ask myself, if there is consensus with the private sector, government, Opposition and all well-thinking Jamaicans, why can’t we see a significant reduction in the crime rate over the many years?”