Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Jamaica Labour Party circus just isn't funny

Published:Monday | March 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The constitutional dilemma now facing the Jamaica Labour Party in light of the recent court ruling in favour of Arthur Williams may be a national blessing in disguise. Not only is it replete with anecdotal grist for many a church sermon, it definitely underscores the need for ground rules by which persons ought to comply to justify their retention as fit and proper persons for the high office of senator. The evidence that Arthur Williams is no longer such a person is overwhelming. He ruled himself ineligible from the moment he agreed to conspire with his party leader to inflict a punishment on his colleagues which he would come to find unbearable for himself.

No question about it now - he had made a grave error. Mr Williams would have done well for himself at this moment of truth to admit his error, seek the forgiveness of his Senate colleagues, retire quietly to lick his wounds, and preserve whatever respectability he could yet muster.

Alas, Mr Williams, apparently unable to deal with the pain, chose the more spectacular route, and in an unprecedented move, virtually took himself to court. Now he enjoys the dubious distinction of having the court rule for and against him at one and the same time.

The outcome of this case was always going to be a Pyrrhic victory, for, though winning his lawsuit, he must now live with the recognition that the court has essentially ruled that the resignation letter he created (whether at the behest of his party leader or not) was of no effect and certainly would not enhance his reputation as a person on whose legal advice one could confidently rely.

And if his party leader cannot rely on him for sound legal advice, why should the rest of Jamaica? Considering the important review role played by the Senate in the enactment of state laws, I believe Mr Williams has disqualified himself from further service in this chamber.


Integrity is important


Appointments to high national offices should not be looked at merely in legal terms. It is not enough that an appointee be merely a loyal party member who has never been proven to break any law. Nor should it be, as Mr Williams apparently believes, that the political colour of one's ancestral genes is basis enough for entitlement to high party office. It should not be that the fit and proper criteria for becoming an administrator of a small trust fund or a charitable organisation turn out to be more exacting than those of becoming a lawmaker in the Upper House.

Moral fortitude and strength of character should count. Honour should be seen to rank higher than the love of power in the appointee's value system.

On this score, Messrs Holness and Williams both have much to learn from Christopher Tufton, who, on recognising that he had made a mistake in agreeing to pre-sign a resignation letter, accepted the consequences and retreated gracefully. Much as I would like to see him back in the Senate, he should not now disappoint and allow himself to be unceremoniously drawn into the fray. Due process must be a paramount consideration at this time.

Mr Williams is, no doubt, a nice man and may still have a lot to contribute to his party and country, but should not be made to benefit from his own misdemeanour. He should, without further ado, quietly tender his resignation directly to the governor general. He should not attempt to send it through his party leader in the event (though unlikely) that Mr Holness may feel obliged, on this occasion, to keep his promise to reappoint him senator upon receipt of his new resignation letter.

But what of Mr Holness' role in this sordid affair? Should he not go, too? His propensity for awkward leadership manoeuvres is becoming quite legendary - no doubt the stuff of which youthful exuberance is made. There is even word on the street that he has been recently recruited by the People's National Party as their new election campaign manager!

No need to worry, though, for Mr Holness has time on his side. In a few years, if he learns well, he would have risen to the rank of prime minister. He will then have a chance to wipe his slate clean, declare himself 'Most Honourable' and start all over again.

The lessons from this tragicomedy should be used as a basis for establishing a moral code of conduct for our legislators.

- Olive Nelson is a chartered accountant. Email feedback to and