George Wright issue will be no nine-day wonder
Trafigura, CCJ issues prove thatSunday, May 02, 2021
“There is a critical mass of Jamaicans who will not 'stand for any foolishness'. Political sluggishness and sluggards will be responded to with a scalpel-like sharpness.”
No, I did not write this after allegations began swirling that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Central George Wright is the man who was seen violently assaulting a woman in a video which has been making the rounds on social media. The mentioned quote is taken from my The Agenda article published in the Sunday Observer on September 6, 2020, a mere 48 hours after the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) pummelled the then Dr Peter Phillips-led People's National Party (PNP) in our 18th parliamentary election.
In the mentioned article, and two subsequent to it, I pointed out that the trouncing of the PNP was not a licence for the JLP to do as it pleased — as happened in former times when political parties won landslides. The shaking of the political tea leaves should have been more than obvious to anyone with a modicum of political sense. But I guess, in the understandably frenzied victory celebrations, many did not realise the blowing of a strong new wind.
I noted in this space four Sundays ago that, “Folks are tired of mealy-mouthed expressions of concerns, unfulfilled promises, useless pontifications, purposeless grandstanding, and pointless political palliatives.
“Well-thinking Jamaicans are clamouring for seismic actions which will steer us away from the long-standing and very costly afflictions that have thwarted the social, economic and political development of our country.”
At the time of writing this column, 35 groups, inclusive of church organisations, civil society interests, private sector bodies, civic associations, and politically affiliated operations had called for the resignation of the Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Central George Wright. Now, except for those who have just woke up from years of deep sleep, way up, in the Blue Mountains, it is obvious that spokespersons for some of these groups have and/or have had more than a passing relationship with 89 Old Hope Road.
Notwithstanding that conspicuous reality, no amount of harangue about who is the head of, or even the membership complexion of some of these groupings will change the reality that the Holness Administration is haemorrhaging politically because of this imbroglio.
Those in the JLP who figure that the proverbial 'nine-day wonder' will soothe and/or devour public anger simply do not know 'what a clock ah strike'. A critical mass has freed themselves of the nine-day affliction. Political parties which ignore this critical mass do so at their own peril.
There is a pall hanging over George Wright and it is quickly engulfing 20 Belmont Road. I think more pressure will be placed on Wright to resign in the coming days. I believe that pressure will result in considerable squandering of important political capital gained by the Holness Administration and the JLP. This whole situation is a political godsend for the PNP, given the Privy Council ruling on the long-standing Trafigura matter.
In my September 6, 2020 column I also said: “The JLP will have to be on its Ps and Qs. Its members will have to focus on delivery. They will have to deliver or become a political castaway. Their slightest fumble will be amplified, especially by those who are sorely disappointed with another PNP defeat.
“Prime Minister Andrew Holness is doubtless aware that the missteps of the first term cannot be repeated. The incoming Administration will be held to the fire like no other before it. Folks will be demanding less rhetoric in exchange for more concrete results, less strutting around like a peacock, and more soaring like an eagle from both the Administration and Opposition.”
One of the great mistakes of the 2012-2016 Portia Simpson Miller Administration was that it allowed cracks in the political dam to go unrepaired. These became bigger and bigger. Simpson Miller's Administration was soon flooded. Some like me had repeatedly warned about the gaping holes. Holness would do well not to repeat that abysmal error.
Keep the Privy Council
Two weeks ago the Judicial Committee of the United Kingdom Privy Council dismissed the appeal of five members of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) in the Trafigura case. Last Sunday, my article centred on the genesis of the Trafigura scandal, aspects of the Privy Council ruling on the case, and I commented on the great importance of public interest to the smooth functioning of a democracy.
I have received many responses from readers. Most say it would be foolhardy for Jamaica to dispense with the Privy Council. I agree! As a matter of fact, I have long argued in this space and on radio that I don't believe the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should be replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final appellate court at this time.
Furthermore, I believe that any decision to replace the Privy Council and institute the CCJ as our final appellate court in all jurisdictions must be made directly by the people of Jamaica in a national referendum.
I am terrified of those who are involved in an unholy rush to establish the CCJ as the final appellate court in all jurisdictions without consulting citizens in a referendum.
Consider this: “The Government is standing firm on its vow to establish the controversial Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the nation's final court of appeal, despite yesterday's ruling by the United Kingdom-based Privy Council that the Government's handling of the process last year, where the CCJ Bills were passed in Parliament, was unconstitutional.
“Reacting to the ruling, Prime Minister P J Patterson said that the Government's legal team was completing its analysis of the judgement delivered by the British law lords and that Cabinet will consider the matter fully on Monday.
'' 'The Jamaican Government remains committed to the establishment of the CCJ as our final appellate court.' Patterson said. 'The Government intends to take the necessary steps arising from this decision to honour our commitment to the Jamaican people and our partners in the region.'
“The prime minister's statement came after Government officials scrambled yesterday to come up with a response to the obviously disappointing ruling which was delivered at about 5:00 am.
“In its ruling, the Privy Council declared that the three CCJ-related companion Bills passed by Parliament last year were unconstitutional and, therefore, void.” ( The Gleaner, February 4, 2005)
Consider this also: “Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who opened the debate on November 25, insisted yesterday that her Government's efforts to switch to the CCJ, by way of a two-thirds majority in Parliament, on three Bills she tabled in July to facilitate the process, was the right thing to do.
“ 'The Opposition is now being given three months to reflect collectively and individually, and do the honourable and logical thing of agreeing to support Jamaica establishing the CCJ as our final court,' she stated.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 21, 2015)
Fortunately for us then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness insisted that the decision on the CCJ “must be made via a referendum”.
Evolution not complete!
I repeat, I don't believe the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should be replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final appellate court at this time. Political influence and manipulation of institutions in this country are far-reaching and deep-rooted. We are evolving from that quagmire. But I humbly submit that we have not yet reached the point of necessary evolution that would make me feel comfortable with not having the right of appeal to the Privy Council. I am not singular in this respect either.
Check this: “In their second referendum on the CCJ, Grenadians this month voted 'no' by 12,133 to 9,846 yes votes. In their first referendum, also this month, Antiguans voted 'no' by 9,234 as against 8,509 yes votes. By very clear majorities, those voters said they were not yet prepared to replace the United Kingdom Privy Council with the CCJ. What is instructive is that the ruling parties — which were coming off huge electoral victories — supported the 'yes' movement to no avail.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 13, 2018)
I am also very distrustful of those who say that we should abandon the Privy Council because such an action would bolster Caribbean sovereignty. It seems to me that for some among us the CCJ might well be a Caribbean court of convenience.
Justice is far too important a right to situate its delivery on the unsteady back of regional pride, alone. Insularity has stifled the progress of this region for decades, that factor also cannot be ignored.
The court system, particularly in Jamaica, needs to be repaired prior to full participation in the CCJ. Notwithstanding recent improvements, Jamaica still has one of the worst backlog of cases in the region. I anticipate some are going to say, 'Yes, man, see he does not believe we have local and regional judges with abilities equal to those who sit on the Privy Council.' Honest brokers know that we need far more than high-quality justices to deliver justice in a timely and efficient manner.
Good ground vs thorns?
Just over a month ago, I commended the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) in my The Agenda piece. The occasion was a revelation in Parliament by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that, among other things: “In 2020, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) recorded a 53 per cent clear-up rate for homicides, compared to 39 per cent in 2019.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 20, 2021)
Said Holness: “Increases in our cyber forensics processing output and the routine retrieval of DNA from crime scenes and recovered weapons have directly led to more convictions. This approach to investigations has resulted in better clear-up rates.”
It did not escape my notice that in recent weeks the police, in short order, were able to arrest and charge individuals for particularly heinous murders which shook the society at its foundation.
There is a slightly positive breeze blowing within the JCF, and I dare say within our security forces in general. What, hopefully, is the beginning of a sea change should be encouraged by all of us.
The Andrew Holness-led Administration, based on public information, has pumped unprecedented physical and financial resources into national security. It seems we are beginning to slowly see some good fruits from those massive investments.
This banner headline: '23% increase in gun seizures so far this year — police', caught my attention.
The news item noted this and other information: “The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is reporting a 23 per cent increase in the seizure of illegal firearms, having removed 226 weapons from the nation's streets since the start of the year.
“Among the firearms seized are 25 rifles, which, according to the JCF, represent a 92 per cent increase in the seizure of deadly assault rifles when compared with the 13 seized for the same period last year.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 27, 2021)
Recent reports from the JCF say there are appreciable reductions in some major crimes. Murder, though, has registered around a three per cent increase compared to the corresponding period in 2020.
It is very early days yet, but I think we are beginning to see some real positive perception-altering results, from the JCF.
Sadly, while many in the JCF are busy planting good seeds, some are just as busy sowing thorns.
Headline: 'Cops posing with guns in wedding photo under probe' ( Jamaica Observer, April 27, 2020)
Headline: 'I-PROB investigating policemen who gave testimony in collapsed case in Gun Court' ( Nationwide News Network, April 19, 2021)
If those people involved in these and related episodes are found to have brought the JCF into disrepute, quick and corrective action must be taken by the high command. Failing that there will be continued rapid reinforcement of a long-held view that the JCF is a bad tree that occasionally bears some good fruits, and that the tree needs to be uprooted and cast into the fire.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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