A letter to Justice Minister Mark Golding

A letter to Justice Minister Mark Golding

Monday, January 26, 2015

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Dear Minister Golding:

I crave your indulgence regarding my thoughts on the enquiry into the security forces' operation of 2010 into Tivoli Gardens which resulted in the death of over 70 citizens. I believe that, while the commission is necessary, it could have been accomplished at a much lower cost to our overburdened and underserved taxpayers.

Despite confusion on some basic issues, I believe most of us understand that, under the law, an individual is presumed innocent until he/she is proven guilty of a crime. To the extent that none of those killed were convicted of anything, and it cannot be proven that they attacked the security forces, they were innocent.

Like Al Gore after the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, which he believed cost him the 2000 presidential election, the situation left me in a "perpetual state of mad". I recognised that we had decisively crossed into the category of failed state, characterised by problems like:

1) uneven economic development along group lines;

2) sharp or persistent economic decline;

3) increasing demographic pressures (eg rural-urban drift);

4) chronic and sustained human flight (brain drain);

5) violation of human rights;

6) worsening public services;

7) seemining suspension or arbitrary application of the rule of law; and

8) a criminalisation of the State.

As it does now, in 2010, items one to six applied to Jamaica to a greater or lesser extent. With the security forces' operation, item seven checked as well, leading to eight.

Arbitrary application of the rule of law could be said to have begun in 2009 when then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, rather than honour the extradition request for Christopher Coke, as had been done with other such requests in the past, and in keeping with the bilateral agreement with the United States, attempted to circumvent the process, including hiring a Washington law firm to lobby against the extradition. This was particularly troubling because of Coke's alleged ties to the Jamaica Labour Party, which Golding led.

Professor Brian Meeks, director of Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social & Economic Studies, in an article, July 22, 2013, titled 'Jamaica on the brink of becoming a failed state', cites the operation and the difficult negotiations with the International Monetary Fund as examples of our tenuous sovereignty. "Unless we begin to think very clearly about these things, we are going to arrive at a state where we are a dead frog floating around in the water of the failed Jamaican state," Meeks said.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Sir Arthur Lewis, namesake of the institute which Meeks leads, identified nine practices of governments bound to lead to economic and social stagnation, among them failure to maintain order, plundering the citizens, promoting exploitation of one class by another, embarking upon costly wars, and excessive spending.

Since the security forces' operation, I have channelled my energy into writing locally. One of the articles I wrote immediately following, titled 'The race to the bottom: Can it be stopped?' was never published. It said, in part:

"...The events exposed the reality that, in an age where governments who are serious about development are striving to conduct themselves on the basis of sound public policies and universally accepted protocols, the Jamaican Government seems to be going by the seat of its pants without even the benefit of a sound moral compass. Ultimately, it exposed why, on all global quality of life indicators, we are scoring high on negatives such as corruption, and low on positives such as peacefulness, human development and global competitiveness."

Given the context of the enquiry and current socio-economic conditions, my disappointment is that greater care was not taken to design a commission that would best serve the cause of justice; one where Government is seen to be unquestionably promoting transparency and acting in the best interest of the Jamaican people.

I reject any suggestion that the commission should not be held. It is a last-ditch effort to bring resolution to a sordid event. Equally, I reject that we should just give some money to the victims -- as if we are paying for livestock. A structure must be established to present the facts and steps taken for the State to make restitution.

While you and Finance Minister Peter Phillips explained the high costs, as benchmarked against international standards, I am puzzled as to which ones. The chief justice of the United States Supreme Court earns US$223,500 annually, and the eight associate justices US$213,900. A typical US judge earns under US$152,618. The Lord Chief Justice of the United Kingdom, the country's most senior judge, earns around £245,000 annually, or just over $43 million. One way to calculate a generous payment for commission chair, David Simmons, would be to calculate two months of either chief justices' salary and add a 15 per cent gratuity, or use the US Department of Justice's highest daily rate for contractors: US$450.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a premier International organisation, used its US$100,000 contribution partly to fund two consultants -- one of which is primarily responsible for the data collection that will form the commission's report. Why couldn't the commissioner's fees be benchmarked using UNDP's guidelines?

And, since we are applying international standards to payments, are we doing the same with deadlines? In this case, 30 days following the final sitting would be standard. What is the deadline for this report?

Minister, our future as a nation state is untenable if our choice is between one set of leaders who effectively allow the death of over 70 citizens without explained circumstances, and another set who thinks slowly squeezing the lifeblood out of them is a better idea.

I plead for justice.

Grace Virtue, PhD, is a social justice advocate.

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