Voting against SOE was matter of conscience, says Peter Bunting

Voting against SOE was matter of conscience, says Peter Bunting

South/Central Bureau

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Peter Bunting says he was a “little lonely” when he ended up being the only member of the House of Representatives to oppose the recent extension of a State of Emergency in St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland.

Bunting, the Member of Parliament for Manchester Central, told hardcore People’s National Party (PNP) supporters at a divisional conference in Mandeville last Sunday that he felt “a little better” days later, when he got support in the Senate.

Opposition senators Damion Crawford and Floyd Morris voted against the resolution for a 90-day extension which was passed by the Government with support from three Opposition senators.

Bunting applauded Crawford — who was the guest speaker at the divisional conference — for going to the Senate armed with “evidence and statistics” to illustrate why the government’s insistence on states of emergency to fight crime was flawed.

Bunting, a former National Security Minister, explained to constituents on Sunday night that his decision to vote against the government’s resolution was “a matter of conscience” because he felt the approach, which gives the military and police extra powers, was wrong and unconstitutional.

He told the Jamaica Observer following the meeting that his decision had come as no surprise to the Peter Phillips-led PNP since it had been discussed at an executive meeting the night before the May 7 vote in the House of Representatives.

“I made my position clear (to the PNP executive), that for me it was a matter of conscience, because I sincerely believed that the way it (state of emergency) was being used was unconstitutional, and no one asked me to change my position. So it was not a surprise to anybody,” said Bunting.

The current state of emergency (SOE), set to last until August in the three western parishes, came into effect on April 30. It followed what the Andrew Holness-led government said were intolerable levels of criminal violence.

Phillips and his opposition PNP have warned that the party will not support extensions of the SOE indefinitely. They have repeatedly warned the government against “normalising” the measure as a crime-fighting strategy.

Previous states of emergency, since early 2018, in St James, parts of west Kingston and St Catherine ended earlier this year, after the Opposition withdrew its support. The government needs two-thirds parliamentary support for extensions to stand.

Bunting told Comrades Sunday night that having spent four years as national security minister, he knew that fighting crime required far more than just action by the security forces.

He called for more social intervention initiatives such as his Unite for Change project which had experts working alongside the private/voluntary groups such as the Peace Management Initiative to help communities turn their face against crime.

Bunting credited such initiatives for what he said were far fewer murders when he was minister.

“Under our (PNP) Administration, 2012-16, we had 300 fewer murders every year on average than the JLP Administration before and this current Administration now,” he noted.

He argued that Jamaica’s improved economic position in 2019, compared to seven years ago, after years of debt reduction and fiscal discipline spanning both Administrations, meant the current Government was better able to invest in anti-crime strategies.

“Horace Chang as minister has 10 times the capital budget this year than I had during my time as minister — $20 billion dollars this year. I never reached $2 billion dollars during my time as minister.

“Yet we had much better results than this JLP Administration is getting, (and) we had no states of emergency… I am not saying that we got (crime) to the level where it needed to be; I am saying we were getting much better results than we are seeing now,” Bunting argued.

He added that “from a constitutional perspective (a state if emergency) is not to be used lightly, but even from an operational perspective, if you use it as a routine tool it loses its effectiveness. The idea of a state of emergency is that when it is called, criminals must tremble because they know it is something radical… shock and awe.

“We pointed that out last year when they called a state of emergency. For the first few months it had an impact, but by month four or five it had started to taper off. And by the second half of the year, it was having no further impact at all,” said Bunting, adding that criminals were relocating to other parishes and restrategising.

He claimed a similar trend was showing up in the latest emergency measure.

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