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Christie versus LaTouche: No retreat, no surrender

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS B Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2012    

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GREG Christie has refused to retract statements alleging that reckless utterances about the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) from a certain segment of government contractors was endangering the life of his staff.

That statement made earlier this month and which has drawn the ire of Percival LaTouche, chairman of the recently organised Jamaica Association of Contractors and Construction Consultants (JAC), is shaping up to become a legal row.

LaTouche is contending that the OCG has sullied his character and through his attorney Lord Anthony Gifford QC has called for an apology and withdrawal of the statement issued to the media on September 5, 2012.

But on Monday the contractor general in the latest salvo acknowledged receipt of the letter, noting that it was yet to "receive notice or service of any such lawsuit" from LaTouche against his office for alleged defamation of character.

"The OCG stands by its media release in every particular and has today (Monday)...advised that it will not withdraw its release," Christie said.

He said his September 5 media release "did not, in any way, attribute the threat of execution on the life of the OCG staff member to Mr LaTouche, but merely stated, as a matter of fact, that the staff-member, at whom the alleged execution attempt was directed, was the same person against whom threats of violence were overheard being made during the inaugural meeting, on July 28, 2012, of the JAC".

Christie referred LaTouche and his attorney to the police "for corroboration of the particulars of the OCG report that was made to the police and to gain a greater appreciation of the threat (of execution) that was made against the OCG officer and, in particular, to obtain better particulars of the reported allegations which the OCG, out of an abundance of caution, did not deem fit to publicly disclose".

The contractor general in sticking to his guns further declared: "The OCG regards any threat of violence, whether veiled, direct or otherwise, that is made against any member of its staff, to be an extremely serious matter. The OCG will not be intimidated in the discharge of its sworn mandates, under the Contractor General Act, by such threats and will take all requisite and lawful steps to ensure that the safety and security of its personnel are preserved."

He reiterated earlier concerns "that false and inflammatory statements, that are irresponsibly directed against the OCG, and which seek to erroneously hold the OCG responsible for what has been alleged, among other things, to be the loss of the economic livelihood of contractors, are, in fact, likely to encourage acts of violence against innocent OCG personnel who are doing nothing more than the jobs that they are mandated by law to do".

LaTouche's attorney has, in the meantime, taken issue with the mentioning of his client in the same release following on the reference to the alleged attempt on the life of the OCG staff member. He is contending that the release which remains on the OCG's website and parts of which have been published in the press, runs the risk of conveying to the "ordinary and reasonable reader, that the client has been making deliberately false and reckless statements which were calculated to endanger the lives of your staff and indeed have led to one attempt on a staff member's life.

"Such an imputation is deeply damaging and distressing to our client. He himself did not hear any threats issued at the 28th July 2012 meeting or at any other time. He would deeply deplore any offer or threat of violence to your staff. He has neither uttered nor encouraged any such threat," the letter said.

"Unfortunately, the wide publication of your release has caused many people around the world to contact our client and ask him why he is making threats to the OCG. Our client's reputation, which stands high internationally through his work for returning residents over many years, has been severely affected. We ask you to withdraw this release from your website and to apologise for having linked our client to threats and acts of violence," the Giffordy said.

But Christie suggested that it was LaTouche who should curb his own utterances, drawing reference to statements attributed to him in separate newscasts quoting him as saying: "I should have allowed them to b...side them in there," in reference to Christie's staff attending a meeting of government procurement contractors without invitation.

Christie argued that the stance taken by his office "must also be assessed within the context that Mr LaTouche and the JAC have publicly accused the OCG as being responsible for, inter alia, the 'extreme hardship' which is allegedly being faced by contractors, as well as the alleged resultant financial losses and destruction of their family life".

"Given the very serious nature of the public statements which have been made...the OCG is obliged to respectfully suggest that Mr LaTouche should, in the future, be more responsible with his public utterances, particularly having regard to their far reaching impact and the potential which they possess to become the source of acrimony between the OCG and JAC contractors," an unapologetic Christie said.

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