Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Dorothy Lightbourne and the bliss of ignorance

Published:Monday | February 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Dorothy Lightbourne demonstrated to Jamaica last week why they should be glad she is no longer either their minister of justice or attorney general and, perhaps, why she made such a hash of the jobs when she held them in the Golding administration.

Testifying before the commission of enquiry into the ultimately bloody operation by the security forces in 2010 to capture the gang boss and community overlord, Christopher Coke, Ms Lightbourne made a startling revelation about how she informs herself on public issues. "I do not read the newspapers or watch the news because they are usually very disturbing," she said.

She might read a specific story, Ms Lightbourne implied, if someone brought it especially to her attention and suggested that she do so. Oh, she is aware of foreign news, she was happy to declare.

 

AN UNFORGIVABLE LACK OF CURIOSITY

 

Forget the tense, which could be mistaken by indicating only her current behaviour. Ms Lightbourne was, in fact, explaining her declared ignorance of Coke's reputation prior to and even after America's request for extradition in 2009 on drug trafficking and gunrunning charges, for which he is currently serving a 23-year sentence in a United States prison on a plea-bargaining deal. Her information/knowledge of him, including his connection with the Jamaica Labour Party, of which she was a member was, at best, very cursory.

First, if Ms Lightbourne told the truth, which we can only assume she did, it constitutes an unforgivable lack of curiosity on the part of any citizen and raises grave negligence on the part of a public official, especially one who was a member of Cabinet and helped to shape and execute public policy.

Indeed, Ms Lightbourne's confession, while it may not rise to the bliss of ignorance on domestic affairs may, in part, explain why she was party to the nine-month delay by the Jamaican Government in executing the extradition warrant against Coke, supposedly on the grounds that the evidence that underpinned the request was constitutionally defective. Ironically, Ms Lightbourne eventually signed the documents to effect Coke's arrest because, she explained, the long public outcry and disengagement of civil society had essentially paralysed the Government.

Maybe if Ms Lightbourne had been reading the press, or watching and listening to domestic news, she might become aware earlier of the public's mood and of events that eventually overwhelmed the administration. Or, she might have been persuaded by the many legal offerings that took issue with her position. Maybe, too, she might have stumbled on an approach that would have prevented the bungling of the attempt when she eventually attempted to have the Constitutional Court declare on whether she had acted correctly.

It is one thing if private citizens disengage from Jamaican news, and attempt to exist in a sanitised bubble, because they find the domestic affairs upon which the press reports 'disturbing'. It is quite another, however, when an official seeks or accepts an invitation to occupy high office, dons blinkers and applies earplugs, effectively cutting themselves from information that might help them to understand and solve the problems they are pledged to confront.

This newspaper agreed with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller when she said candidates to her Cabinet would face no questions about their sexuality. We, however, have no objection to them being asked whether they read, listen or watch the news.