KINGSTON – Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday tabled three Bills expected to play a dominant role in the Government’s continuing efforts to bring crime and violence under control.
The most comprehensive of the Bills — The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) — will give members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) essential powers, which the Government believes are necessary in addressing serious crimes, while upholding the rule of law and protecting the fundamental rights of citizens.
The prime minister called for bipartisan support for the Bill, which seeks to establish a legal framework in which the prime minister, acting on the advice of the National Security Council, may declare any high-crime area of Jamaica a zone for special security operations and community development measures.
He said that the Bill will be reviewed by a bipartisan committee of Parliament before it is passed.
“I urge its quick passage so that we may save innocent Jamaicans from being deprived of their right to life, and the enabling freedoms and security to enjoy it,” he said.
“This legislation is designed to give effect to a well-established and practised security and community building strategy termed Clear, Hold and Build,” he emphasised.
The other Bills are the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) Bill, which is aimed at combating serious crimes and corruption; and the National Identification and Registration Act, which is designed to facilitate a “secure, reliable and robust verification and authentication of the identity of all Jamaican residents”.
In a three-hour-long contribution to the 2017/18 Budget Debate at Gordon House, Holness said that while most Jamaican communities are “peaceful and law-abiding”, there are areas with elevated levels of crime and problems, such as high unemployment, low incomes, poor infrastructure, unplanned settlements, and generally a lack of access to State amenities and services.
“Criminals operate freely in these communities, taking life, taking property, taking your daughters, and extorting tax to protect you from them,” he said.
He said that the history of intervention by the State shows that over-reliance on strong policing measures may attenuate the situation in the short term, but does not bring long-term stability and normalisation.
“Any strategy to address these areas must be comprehensive, sustained, inclusive and respectful of human rights and the dignity of the people,” the prime minister stated.
He said that his Administration had considered the situation carefully, and he was now tabling the Bill, “An Act to provide for special measures for upholding and preserving the rule of law, public order, citizen security, and public safety within certain graphically-defined areas of Jamaica; and for connected matters” or — concisely, the Zones of Special Operations, Special Security and Community Development Measures Act, 2017.
Holness said that the legislation is breaking new ground in law enforcement strategy in Jamaica.
“While the measures it contemplates are urgent and very much needed, it is equally important that they get bipartisan support and benefit from the closer scrutiny of the Parliament in a joint select committee,” Holness said. “I believe in this Bill we have struck the right balance of resolute policing with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
He said that, in terms of the national identification project, he saw it as a priority, as it will lead to the establishment of a body called the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).
He said that the Registrar General’s Department will be transformed into the NIRA, and will be responsible for implementing the project.
On the issues of crime and corruption, Holness said that the MOCA Bill was the second anti-corruption measure tabled by his Government in Parliament over the last two months, following the Integrity Commission Bill.
He said that the MOCA Bill will give the agency its own statutory mandate, with police powers within its prescribed sphere of operations.
MOCA has been operating as an elite, investigative, anti-corruption, and law enforcement agency under the aegis of the JCF, specifically tasked to tackle crime kingpins, major criminal enterprises and corrupt practices whether in the public or private sector. The 2017/18 Budget Debate will be closed today by Minister of Finance.