Gov’t sticks to rejection of UK-financed prison

Inside parliament

With Balford Henry

Saturday, January 14, 2017

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It was hard to understand why the Opposition in the Senate felt that the Government would have taken a 360-degree turnaround, and grab the £25-million carrot that former British Prime Minister David Cameron offered to build a prison in Jamaica in 2015.


Certainly, this was nothing more than a political exercise which left the perpetrators with egg on their faces and plunged them into a desperate attempt to win new face.


The fact is that, after arriving at the position that spurring the Jamaica Government to build a new maximum-security prison, Cameron felt that all he needed to do was to travel to the island on a State visit, which the then Government probably needed, ignore questions on issues like reparations for slavery and colonialism, dangle his £25-million contribution to the building of a new prison, which could possibly cost four times that amount in order to achieve British standards, and Jamaica would be willing to accept its nationals who have been imprisoned in Britain before they had even completed their sentences.


At the time he had made the offer, the majority of Jamaicans, including the then Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness, completely dismissed the idea.


This dismissal may have been passionately driven by the fact that most well-thinking Jamaicans felt that the British, after decades of partially ignoring the country’s efforts to rebuild its devastated economy — a condition which was primarily the result of colonialism and its economic and cultural side effects — could send its prime minister to Jamaica to bribe the Government with a £25-million donation towards construction of a modern maximum security prison, for not only those victims of its partiality who live here, but also 600 Jamaicans who went to Britain and ended up criminally inclined and had become a severe burden to the State.


Many Jamaicans were proud of the response from the leader of the then Opposition, considering that his limited post-Independence experience with colonialism was purely historical, and joined with him in heaving the cash bag back over Cameron’s shoulder and sending him back to London, although without reminding him that, in effect, that was the end of the story.


Holness should probably have made that known to him there and then, but one has to take into consideration the fact that the then Government had actually signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the issue prior to Cameron’s arrival in Kingston, which would allow for the possibility of continuing dialogue between both governments.


However, while there was certainly room for dialogue between the British Conservative Party leader and then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, based on the provisions of that MOU, there was certainly no room for talk on the part of the then Jamaica Opposition leader, who bluntly insisted that a new prison was not the answer to Jamaica’s problems.


Holness noted that the new, state-of-the-art prison would cost at least £40 million, and would benefit Britain’s taxpayers more than Jamaica’s.


At the same time the UK’s
Sunday Express newspaper exposed that Cameron’s Government said it could save £10 million a year by sending back some of the 600 jailed Jamaicans — mainly locked up for drugs and violence — who cost the UK some £36,000 per prisoner.


"They are not deported now because of fears the bad conditions in Jamaica’s existing jails could trigger a human rights law challenge," the newspaper added.


It is a fact, therefore, that if Cameron was really decent about assisting Jamaica to build a modern prison, which could also accommodate Jamaicans imprisoned in the UK, he would have almost paid off the £40-million total cost of the prison with just one of those prisoners, or saved £20 million over the two years for British taxpayers by now.


"It makes sense to spend the money in a way to save taxpayers’ money at home," Cameron told his British audience prior to coming to Jamaica.


Surely, that’s not a deal Jamaicans could be proud of. Just think what would be the consequences of releasing those 600 Jamaican prisoners into a society from which their families and other relatives had emigrated to Britain, and left virtually no source of ensuring a honest resumption of their lives.


It was not the kind of debate that one would expect from an upper house of Parliament like the Senate on Friday. It was much too political and petty. It could probably have been excused in the lower House of Representatives.


Interestingly, the intervention of one of the legal luminaries on the Opposition benches, KD Knight, was limited as to whether the President of the Senate Tom Tavares-Finson was allowing members the full latitude allowed by the Standing Orders in expressing their views during the exchange. Need I say more?


The debate lacked both intellectual depth and noble sentiments. It was more like an attempt to bludgeon Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, with diatribe.


Opposition senators Lambert Brown and Wensworth Skeffery were obviously more concerned about the Government’s authority to reject the offer, rather than its efficacy in arriving at its decision.


Leader of Opposition Business, Senator Mark Golding, and his Opposition colleague, Sophia Frazer Binns, tried but failed to move the arguments to a higher level and, despite his best efforts, Tavares-Finson was unable to give Senator Johnson Smith the protection she needed from the onslaught.



*** Parliament resumes on Tuesday with a meeting of the House of Representatives at 2:00 pm. However, the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee will meet on Wednesday morning to complete its of review of the First Supplementary Estimates. Interestingly, the new Joint Select Committee on the Sexual Offenses laws will meet on Wednesday.

    

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