Tue | Aug 22, 2017

So far, so good, Sir David

Published:Friday | December 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM

There is still time for things to go awry, but Sir David Simmons' chairmanship of the west Kingston commission of enquiry, thus far, inspires confidence in us that it will be fair and that any failure to arrive at the truth of the events of May 2010 won't be for an absence of effort on his part.

It is not that we expected anything less. Sir David's excellence as a jurist is well known, and he has experience heading commissions and overseeing investigations elsewhere in the Caribbean. Further, he has the assistance of two outstanding Jamaicans, retired judge Hazel Harris and criminologist and public intellectual, Professor Anthony Harriott.

But this is a potentially politically fraught hearing, dealing, as it does, with matters that have their genesis in the operation in Tivoli Gardens by the security forces to arrest the notorious gangster and community enforcer, Christopher Coke. At least one soldier and 76 civilians died in that operation. Sir David is easily open to accusations of bias, even if the claims are unfounded.

It is against that backdrop that we have been impressed with the manner in which he has been handling the proceedings, including his ejection from the hearings of Lloyd D'Aguilar, the grandstanding, limelight-seeking and disruptive, self-appointed convener/chairman of the Tivoli Committee.

Sir David has been firm, without being rigid, allowing lawyers to test the veracity of witnesses' accusations against the security forces, while allowing the witnesses/complainants room beyond the hard lines that often apply at such hearings. His godfatherly interventions with testy witnesses have defused potentially explosive situations and elicited answers that were not forthcoming from people who communicate primarily in Jamaican and in situations where context and nuance in English may not have been understood or have been lost in translation.

In that regard, it is a gross misrepresentation on the part of those who say that Tivoli Gardens residents who have been victims of abuse have lacked protection from too-robust and unfair cross-examinations. For while their claims are properly tested, cross-examinations have been far from badgering, and Sir David has not allowed attorneys to cross the pale.

We are glad for the opportunity to support Papine division councillor, Venesha Phillips, in something: that she will not be party to the distribution of work along political lines. For that, the People's National Party (PNP) politician was allegedly shot at. Or, shots were fired in her direction.

But Wednesday in the Papine area highlights a fundamental flaw in the management of politics in Jamaica: the role that politicians, parliamentarians, councillors and caretakers have come to play in the distribution of state and other resources. It has evolved into the entrenchment of patronage in politics.

Among the most blatant features of this system is the access to taxpayers' money, from the pork barrel called the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) that MPs are allowed to deliver gravy-soaked slivers to constituents - to pay school fees, to bury the dead or any project they can contrive, once it satisfies the tests of the supposed oversight body.

It is amazing that the opportunity to be immersed in the grease of the CDF is one of the few things about which there is absolutely bipartisan consensus. MPs imbue the delivery of its rind with personal benevolence rather than a shakedown of the Treasury.

We don't know who funded the project that is the subject of discord in Ms Phillips' division, but it is the outcome of the same seed as the CDF and of the nature of Jamaica's politics. Perhaps now, Ms Phillips can find a worthy voice.