Leadership by example: casting the first stone

A J Nicholson

Saturday, January 14, 2017

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The unequal struggle against child sexual abuse in our country calls for the unyielding effort of all of our well-thinking citizens. I join all such persons in recommitting ourselves to that struggle minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day; morning, noon and night.

It is reported that Heather Murray, the principal of an all-girls school, was summoned by the minister of education, youth and information, Senator Ruel Reid, concerning her attendance at court in relation to a matter involving a male adult charged with sexual misconduct with a teenage girl.


That path chosen by her has attracted strong adverse comment from many quarters — even calls for her to relinquish her position — interspersed with words of understanding and empathy from some individuals, including Rev Ronald Thwaites, the present Opposition spokesperson on education.


We are, however, left to wonder whether Minister Reid has ever been moved to agonise over the actions of some of his own colleagues in relation to this very same issue of child sexual abuse, some of his colleagues’ actions having taken place before his own eyes while he himself was an Opposition senator.


For, let us recall that, for over a year, not long ago, Robert "Bobby" Montague, then an Opposition senator and spokesperson, doubled down in the Senate complaining about lack of support being given by the authorities to a Jamaican airline pilot serving a five-year term in a Qatari prison for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.


The Jamaican had been tried and convicted and was unsuccessful in his two appeals to the Qatari court of appeal and to Qatar’s highest court, the Court of Cassation.


Montague, who was later joined by Edmund Bartlett, then also an Opposition spokesperson, publicly claimed for months that our foreign ministry was doing nothing to assist the Jamaican in his travails in Qatar. This, even after assurances were early given by me, by means of a ministerial statement to the Senate, that the individual had been visited twice by officials from our embassy in Kuwait who travelled to Qatar by air to see to his welfare and, among other things, the numerous international telephone calls that had been made in his interest.


In fact, the records at the foreign ministry revealed that no person in similar circumstance as this Jamaican, anywhere in the world, had ever received anything that surpassed the kind of assistance that he had been given.


Regardless, Montague and Bartlett relentlessly continued to excoriate our foreign ministry publicly for "doing nothing" to assist this individual.


Montague and Bartlett, without putting forward any evidence, also publicly constantly denounced the trial procedure in Qatar — a friendly international partner — that led to the individual’s conviction and incarceration.


Throughout this entire episode of public campaigning and harassment, there was never one word or expression of concern for the welfare of the minor victim coming from Montague or Bartlett or from any of their colleagues in the Senate, or from elsewhere.


The Jamaican eventually served his term of imprisonment and was deported to Jamaica.


There then ensued a most extraordinary — and frankly frightening — turn of events: the deportee, upon his return to Jamaica, was met at the Norman Manley International Airport by no less a personage than the then Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition Andrew Holness, with Bartlett in tow, both of whom later that day attended a press conference held for the convicted child sexual abuser.


Principal Heather Murray moved swiftly to convey to the public that the reason for attending at the court was anchored on a long-time sisterly friendship that she shared with a wife, mother and colleague, in her season of obvious deep discontent. Surely, it is not too late for the minister with responsibility for education, youth and information to require that his Cabinet colleagues provide assurances to the public concerning their efforts in relation to a convicted child sexual molester.


Today, Holness is our prime minister; Montague is the national security minister; and Bartlett is the minister of tourism. They are all members of a Government which, as it should, is not sparing in exhorting Jamaicans to dutifully denounce child sexual abuse — now the very subject matter of the school principal’s challenges.


Minister Reid might have summoned Principal Murray to ask certain questions of her, to seek explanations, or perhaps to make some suggestions. Well, here are a few suggested queries that right-thinking individuals among us might wish him to pose to his ministerial colleagues:


What are your views on the appropriateness, the dignity, of your high-profile public welcome accorded to a deportee — a convicted child sexual molester — at his point of return into Jamaica, and thereafter attending a press conference held for him?


Are you of the view that your prolonged actions and efforts on his behalf, some might say elevating him to hero status, represented wholesome leadership by example on your part?


Don’t you consider yourselves duty-bound, jointly and severally, to give some reason/excuse/explanation/apology to your fellow Jamaican citizens, now led by you, for the path that you chose to take?


Do you think your actions, including public denunciation of the operation of the justice system of a friendly foreign State, are likely to bode well for the enhancement of the respected place that our country occupies within the community of nations?


Principal Heather Murray was called upon publicly to answer questions concerning her appearance at a court sitting in relation to an accused person who still enjoys the presumption of innocence.


It is, then, impatient of debate that there is far more powerful reason for Prime Minister Holness and Ministers Montague and Bartlett to be similarly called upon. After all, their prolonged public actions were in relation to an individual who, far from being clothed with the presumption of innocence, was already convicted, imprisoned and eventually deported to Jamaica.


A final issue: As Jamaica’s foreign minister, I received a call on the ministry’s cellular phone with a male voice stating that he was calling from a prison cell in Qatar. It is anybody’s guess as to how that telephone number might have been relayed to the individual.


Quickly realising that I did not recognise the voice; that I could not verify what was being transmitted by this means; that I had no way of knowing who else might be listening; and since I could not guarantee that the conversation that was intended to be pursued could not compromise Jamaica’s interests, I asked the caller if he really understood what he was doing, and promptly ended the call.


This incident was obviously relayed to Montague and Bartlett and to certain media personnel who sought to condemn my reaction as being disrespectful and uncaring of a Jamaican in distress.


I have been reliably advised by those who should know that it was their hope that then Opposition Leader Holness would have informed Bartlett, then Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, that the same kind of reaction would have been expected of him were he the minister, in the protection of Jamaica’s interests.


Principal Heather Murray is in the administrative leadership of a high school. Andrew Holness, Robert Montague and Edmund Bartlett are in the executive leadership of the entire nation. And so too is Ruel Reid who, in this fight against child sexual abuse along with his colleagues, along with all of us, should perhaps not wish to have to be reminded of the time-honoured advice about living in a glass house.





A J Nicholson is a former senator, attorney general and Cabinet minister in People’s National Party administrations. Send comments to the Observer or nicholsonaj1@gmail.com.


    

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