Government and Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) clashed yesterday over a statement from Justice Minister Delroy Chuck which called for openness in dealing with the trial related to the 15-year-old Trafigura donation scandal.
“Fifteen years have elapsed since this matter was brought to the public's attention and, to date, the people of Jamaica are not clear as to what took place. It is incumbent on the parties to cooperate with the DPP [director of public prosecutions] to bring closure to this matter,” Chuck stated.
“I agree with the leader of the Opposition that the matter should be disposed of once and for all. Let us get this matter over with, as the leader of the Opposition said, 'Let the truth come out, and let the chips fall where they may ,' ” said Chuck, as Government members applauded.
He said that the House should take note of the recently delivered judgement in the case involving members of the Opposition People's National Party, which the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) ruled should give evidence in open court regarding the alleged $30-million donation to the party in 2006.
But, according to Chuck, even more important than that, was the JCPC's clarification that section 16(3) of the Jamaican Constitution applies to proceedings under the Mutual Assistance (Criminal Matters) Act (MACMA). He said that moreover, the judgement declared the importance of how section 16(3) of the Jamaica Constitution can protect litigants who give evidence in open court.
He thanked the local court for emphasising the importance of the principle of open justice, adding that it was disappointing that such a straightforward issue had to go to the Privy Council for them to reinforce that: (i) section 16 (3) of the Jamaican Constitution applies to proceedings under MACMA; and (ii) that the best remedy against injustice, and to ensure fairness in the justice system, is for matters such as the Trafigura scandal to be dealt with in open court.
“This constitutional protection is for the benefit of all citizens of this great country and, if the appellants are standing on good ground, they should have nothing to worry about if their evidence is taken in open court,” Chuck informed the House.
But, Opposition Leader Mark Golding would not accept Chuck's position that Jamaicans “needed to know all the facts” including: what, if any, was the nexus between the donation to the PNP and the renewal of the Trafigura contract to continue lifting oil for Jamaica; and, if it is found that the donation was a “political donation”, why was it given to CCOC Association?
He said that he had not intervened previously because of the nature of the matter and the fact that his own position on it is well known.
“But, where the minister is now venturing is to say what he wants to see ventilated in these proceedings. Those proceedings are brought by the Government of the Netherlands in respect of their own investigation of that company and they have specific issues that they would like to hear from persons who may have that information,” Golding said.
He said that the pathway that Chuck was pursuing was “really quite irregular and improper”, as it was a matter before the courts now. He accused the minister of seeking to make “political mileage” for the Government.
“That is the only reason why the issue was raised, today,” Golding shouted as Opposition MPs cheered him on, while Government members raised an alarm at the statement.
Speaker of the House Marisa Dalrymple Philibert intervened, suggesting that she would like to hear the speakers. But, she lost them again as Opposition MPs expressed their discontent when she said that the whole matter had already been in the public domain since the Supreme Court trial.
“My understanding is that the Appeal Court has ruled. So it is final and now it says evidence can now be brought in open court. The substantive matter before the courts was that evidence should be heard in private,” she pointed out.
Golding also ran into Leader of the House Edmund Bartlett who noted that he had arisen and started speaking without “even catching the eye of the speaker”, when he rose to respond.
“The speaker is still speaking and she has not given you even the right to speak. You are still speaking and she has not given the right to speak, therefore, you are contravening the standing orders…” Bartlett noted, insisting that Goldng needed to capture the speaker's attention first.
Golding said that where there are pending matters before the courts they are not to be politicised and discussed in Parliament.