DR Herbert Thompson yesterday said that had he seen the letter from the People's National Party (PNP) inviting him to accept an award on behalf of the Electoral Commission (ECJ) "there is no way under heaven" he would have gone to the function.
At the same time, Thompson — who resigned as ECJ chairman but remained as an independent member amidst a political storm over his acceptance of the award — said he told a colleague commissioner about the invitation, contrary to the Jamaica Labour Party's accusation that he had not consulted with any of the commissioners before attending.
"I spoke to Dorothy Pine-McLarty about the fact that Ambassador Burchell Whiteman, chairman of the awards committee, had invited me to receive an award on behalf of the ECJ, and her response was 'OK, it shouldn't be a problem, we should discuss it at our next meeting.' I didn't know when the function was going to be," Dr Thompson told the Jamaica Observer.
The ECJ meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, September 18, a day after the PNP fund-raising gala and awards to mark the party's 75th anniversary.
Dr Thompson said he was informed of the award to the ECJ through a telephone call from Ambassador Whiteman on Thursday, September 5. The former ECJ chairman said he immediately told Pine-McLarty about the invitation.
"On Monday afternoon (September 16) I got a call from the office to say there was a letter there from Ambassador Whiteman, and it had two invitations, and that the function is Tuesday. I live in Mandeville, the function is the following day, before the meeting, so the discussion I had intended to have (with the ECJ) couldn't happen because the event was coming before, unfortunately," Dr Thompson said.
"I was going on the strength, not of the letter which I had not yet seen, but on the strength of the conversation with Ambassador Whiteman, who told me he was the chairman of the awards committee... I didn't know about any fund-raising, I didn't know about any gala," he noted.
"The morning of the meeting, when the Jamaica Labour Party representatives came and started carrying on it was the first time I was seeing the letter. If I had seen the letter on Tuesday, as I should, there is no way under heaven I would have gone to the function, because that letter was a form letter that was stamped, the individual awardees all got the same letter, so it was wrong to have my name attached to that on a form letter, giving the impression that the PNP was honouring me. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that was what Ambassador Burchell Whiteman apologised for. I have no question about his genuineness, I believe him," Dr Thompson told the Observer.
Whiteman and PNP Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson have both insisted that the award was objective and was paying tribute to the ECJ, and its predecessor, the Electoral Advisory Committee, for their contribution to nation-building.
However, Whiteman has admitted that the tone of the invitation sent to Thompson might have inferred otherwise and has apologised for that.
Whiteman's reference was to the first paragraph of the letter, which read: "Dear Dr Thompson, I have the honour to inform you that you have been nominated for a special award in recognition of your contribution to the work of the People's National Party in its pursuit of its vision for Jamaica over the past 75 years."
However, yesterday, Dr Thompson pointed out that the actual award and citation made no mention of his name, but spoke of the ECJ.
"There are people who say I was set up by the PNP; I honestly don't believe that," he said, adding that he believed he was a victim of other processes taking place in the country at this time.
"They (the Opposition) played it for everything it was worth. There was no question the letter was not meant for me. I am seeing the letter for the first time when the other commissioners are seeing it, and I am totally embarrassed," the former ECJ chairman shared.
He reiterated that he resigned as the ECJ chair in order to repair the damage he unwittingly caused.
"I made that decision based on the demand by the leader of the Opposition that if I didn't resign my chairmanship, based on the error that I made by going to receive an award alone from the PNP, then he was going to withdraw his members from the commission, and I did not want to be chairman with the PNP being the only politicians to sit at the table, I wouldn't preside over that. To prevent the fallout and to save the commission from that kind of embarrassing encounter, and to save my colleagues as well, I decided to step aside as chair," said Dr Thompson, who became chairman on April 3 this year.