Robert Nesta Morgan is the de facto minister of information in the Andrew Holness Administration. There are times when he comes across as being in command of the facts and makes one feel as if the information he doles out can be relied upon. But in the matter of the failed bid by Minister Kamina Johnson Smith to win the election to the post of Commonwealth secretary general, Morgan seems to be twisting himself into a pretzel to explain the contribution of certain private sector people and companies to the process.
Readers of this column will know that I supported Johnson Smith's bid for the post. I believed that she had what would be required to be an effective secretary general and a worthy ambassador for the people of Jamaica. Contrary to what some people believed, I did not see her failure to win as a disservice to the people of Jamaica or the money spent by the Government in the effort as having been wasted. She was representing the people of Jamaica and if she had won it would have been a different matter altogether. She tried and narrowly failed and that is to be respected.
It is precisely because she represented Jamaica in the effort and was assisted from taxpayers' funds that the utmost transparency ought to be upheld by the Government in this matter. In this regard I find Morgan's explanation in Parliament, when asked by the Opposition to account for the private sector companies that helped in the effort, very nauseating. When pressed, Morgan revealed the names of three donors — GraceKennedy Limited, the Musson Group and Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica head Keith Duncan — that had paid the US public relations firm Finn Partners to work on the campaign. He indicated that he had been given permission to reveal these names. Other firms and individuals who participated refused to be named.
In the context of the corruption that prevails in Jamaica I doubt very much whether we would have known of Finn Partner's participation, much less know of the public sector involvement were Finn not obliged by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of the US to disclose its involvement. This Act obliges any individual or company in the US that does work for foreign entities to register under FARA. People have been jailed in the US for violating this law. The law is intended to assist the US Government to identify situations in which there may be attempts by external powers to unduly influence American domestic and foreign policy. This is transparency.
Communication is an art and one of the most important hallmarks of good and effective communication is transparency. This builds trust and lends credibility to not only the matter being reported but also the reporter.
What we have seen in Morgan's tortured response to straightforward questions is a good lesson in what communication is not about. When government ministers or entities indulge a veil of secrecy about any matter, they open themselves to suspicion about their motives. Speculation then follows and this has a virulent way to overtake the truth.
A good communicator, Mr Morgan anticipates events that can flow from information that is revealed or not revealed. You anticipate the possible consequences of an action before you make the information public. You should anticipate the kinds of questions that will be asked once the revelation is made, and worse, what might happen if the information is hidden and you are forced later to disclose it. I believe this was the fateful mistake of the Manatt, Phelps and Phillips saga of earlier vintage, which, arguably, ended the prime ministership of the otherwise able and erudite Bruce Golding.
Once the public starts to ask questions as it is doing now, it will not be content with prevarications, obfuscations, or spin. Once the private sector members decided to participate they should have been told from the very beginning that the public would have to be informed. There is nothing to hide here. If they thought that this was a worthy cause then they should have been able to lend their support without any apology. There would be the traditional grumbling from certain quarters but this would have dissipated. Paul Scott's explanation for Musson's participation is very sound. If asked at the beginning of the process to have its name disclosed, no sensible person could argue with its position, especially the geopolitical imperative of a Johnson Smith win for Jamaican businesses.
When Government fails to be open to its people it is either that it regards the people with disdain or it wants to do something corrupt that they believe people will not find out about. I do not necessarily see a corrupt intent on the part of the Government in this matter, but the obnoxious fumes of methane coming from Morgan's twisting and turning on this matter is dizzying.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm, Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life, and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.