Understanding the JLP constitutional discomfort

Dr Raulston Nembhard

Saturday, November 24, 2012

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The Legal and Constitutional Committee of the JLP has now concluded that although "there were imperfections in the nominations of the deputy leaders for Area Councils 1, 3 and 4, the imperfections were procedural in nature, prejudiced no other person, and were cured by a resolution passed by the JLP All-Island General Council at its meeting on November 18, 2012."

We have to accept the party's findings, but still remain curious at the parsed language that is being used by the committee here. There were imperfections in the nomination process, but these were merely procedural. Notice that they were merely procedural and not constitutional breaches as Mr Everald Warmington had charged.

Even this admission by the committee is a vindication of Mr Warmington's insistence that the proper procedures were not adhered to in the elections, thus placing into open question the party's regard for its own constitutional or internal rules and procedures. We cannot forget too soon that it was this insistence that evoked the response from at least one deputy leader, Mr Audley Shaw, that these breaches occur virtually in every post, as if to suggest that one more breach was no big thing. For raising the matter, Mr Warmington has been pilloried and was virtually declared persona non grata at the conference, but this did not remove the concerns that there were breaches.

The party found itself in this mess simply because it chose to ignore its own rules and procedures. It is true that Mr Warmington is given to irascible behaviour on occasion, and in the eyes of the party leadership this brouhaha was just another Warmington moment. But as the committee has found, it was not; there were in fact "imperfections" in the process. But these imperfections were not to be taken seriously, for they were coming from someone in the party who has shown a penchant to be an upstart. It was disingenuous to suggest that he had an agenda, or that there was any subterfuge afoot.

What lessons are there to be learnt by the party in this matter? First, the party must understand that it cannot treat capriciously the rules and regulations that govern its own life and order. To admit that these breaches occur routinely is an unfortunate development, and indicates that things tend to take on a life of their own and become normative to the extent that the constitution itself becomes the exception and not the rule. But this has greater implications for governance. The JLP has held power in Jamaica and is again waiting in the wings to assume power once again. If it cannot be depended on to obey its own rules, how can it have any credibility to obey the wider constitution of Jamaica and the laws enacted by the legislature when it forms the government of the day? Mr Warmington might have done the party and the country a great service in insisting that the party should take a serious look at its behaviour with respect to its constitution. This was the basis of his threat to go to court, but the party chose to see the threat as one against good order and stability in the party instead of the more serious threat to good order represented by its non-compliance with its own rules. In damage control you do not ignore the veracity of a situation no matter the origin. If the constitution of the party calls for things to be done in a particular way, then adopting another approach without changing the constitutional provisions does not lend legitimacy to your actions. I remember a bishop of the Anglican Church saying repeatedly to his flock that they should not break the canons (church laws) but bring a resolution to change them. The party will claim that this is what the party did at the conference; but this late?

There has been the suggestion that having sat in parliament unconstitutionally for four years, Mr Warmington does not have the moral authority to bring this challenge, and that it is hypocritical for him to do so. This is poppycock. The fact that you might have done wrong does not render you inoperable to see wrong and speak about it. As long as he remains a legitimate member of the party, Mr Warmington has a right to address any matter that he sees to be injurious to the good order of the party. Murdering the messenger does not change the content or import of the message. You may disagree with his methodology, but the soundness of his right to challenge cannot be denied. What is at stake here is the principle of constitutional integrity, not the perceived narcissism of Mr Warmington.

Speaking of the conference, Mr Holness would be well advised to tone down the rhetoric. He mentioned a number of things about which he is sick and tired. He needs to know that many Jamaicans are sick and tired of the loud shrieks from political platforms. We want our politicians, both in the government and the opposition, to wrestle with the intractable problems that face the country, especially in a time of grave economic crisis. This is not the time for politicking, Mr Holness. You cannot be serious when you say that this is the time to begin an election campaign for power. Please tell me that you are not serious.





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