Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Editorial: Don’t be shackled by the law, Fitz

Published:Friday | March 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Fitz Jackson, the MP for South St Catherine, is a politician for whom this newspaper would make time. He is often rational. Or, so it appears.

But something has gone wrong. On the Portmore municipal boundaries issue, he seems to have lost his marbles. He is willing to play fast and loose with the law and chides those who insist on following judicial principles.

The issue at hand is the move to expand the boundaries of the Portmore municipality to facilitate adjustment to the boundaries of two national constituencies, including his own, in the parish of St Catherine, which has left some residents of the municipality without the right of representation in local government.

It is an abnormality that, at the time of its creation four years ago, the governing People's National Party and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had agreed to resolve. The issue now is how.


collecting signatures


Recently, the Government instructed the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) to collect signatures of a minimum seven per cent of the residents of the municipality, who are also registered voters, signalling their agreement with the Portmore boundary adjustments. The EOJ has been conducting this exercise. This is what the Government presumes to be the procedure for providing authority for the change.

Two JLP politicians, Keith Blake, who is a member of the Portmore council, and Welton Shettlewood, who would like to be the municipality's mayor, object, insisting that the process is wrong in law. They have gone to court seeking to bring the whole thing to a halt.

Messrs Blake and Shettlewood, on the face of it, may be on sound legal ground.

Among the requirements under Section 3 (3) of the Municipalities Act, before the relevant minister approves a charter for the establishment of a municipality is a petition "signed by seven per cent of the inhabitants of the proposed municipality, whose names, at the time of signature, are on the official list of electors for the House of Representatives".

But as Messrs Blake and Shettlewood observed, this refers specifically to the establishment of a municipality and the boundaries within it. Like them, unless there are other applicable laws and other ways to interpret this statute, we can find nothing in the legislation to facilitate the expansion of the municipality's boundaries.


shape-shifter persona


The usually reasonable Mr Jackson, in his obfuscatory statements and dodges behind "I'm-not-a-lawyer" declarations, doesn't deny that Messrs Blake and Shettlewood may have a real point. At least, he doesn't seem to. Although, in this shape-shifting persona, one can't really tell.

But what Mr Jackson is clear about is that they should not be going to court for a judicial declaration on the matter, which he views as a mere political tactic and "mischief" making. Further, he describes the two men as "lone rangers" who are creating "unwarranted distraction".

In other words, Mr Jackson would wish the EOJ to "run with it", on the basis of some kind of deal between the parties, perhaps in some darkened back room, when the real solution may rest with Parliament fixing a real deficiency in the law.

What is frightening is that the political executive and, worse, the EOJ and its bosses, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, seem to be on the same path as Fitz Jackson.

People should be wary. Today, it's a municipal boundary. Who knows what tomorrow!