Editorial: Go after members of Gordon House gangs
We appreciate that the attention of the new administration may be concentrated on its economic priorities, especially as it prepares to debate its first Budget for the fiscal year that begun this month.
That notwithstanding, we urge Prime Minister Andrew Holness to be, at the same time, equally absorbed by the process that underpins the legitimacy of his Government and to work towards making it better. We refer, of course, to Jamaica's adherence to democracy and its inseparable handmaiden, a credible electoral system. In this regard, there is still much to do despite the substantial strides Jamaica has made in recent decades to ensure that its elections are free and fair.
Mr Holness, as the country's leader and in a show of good faith, should start by suspending from the Cabinet, or any job in the executive, any candidate of his Jamaica Labour Party who, thus far, has failed to file his or her expenditure reports for the February 25 general election, which were due on April 6.
In the circumstance, Horace Chang, the party's general secretary and a minister without portfolio on the Office of the Prime Minister, and Ruddy Spencer, who is state minister in the finance and planning ministry - both are among 41 election candidates, or 27 per cent of those who were in the contest, referred to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for breaching the law - would be sidelined until they rectified their situation.
We also urge the opposition leader and People's National Party president, Portia Simpson Miller, to take similar steps in her party, with regard to seats on the council of spokespersons and non-elected positions within the party that are within her gift.
None of this should preclude DPP Paula Llewellyn from aggressively pursuing, to the fullest extent possible, criminal proceedings against the recalcitrant candidates as an example to the impunity with which many prospective legislators flout the very laws they may have helped to pass and are sworn to uphold.
A TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADER
This sense of privilege, and the permissiveness that allows it, is not unique to this crop of members of the gangs of Gordon House. Up to the last quarter of 2015, and nearly four years after the previous general election, 80 candidates, or 53 per cent of those who offered themselves to serve in Parliament, had failed to file their returns. It remains unclear if they have since done so and what, if anything, will be done about those still in breach. They, too, should face the law.
The other urgent democracy-related initiative of the Holness Government must be to immediately bring into force the law passed by Parliament last year for political-party registration and campaign-finance rules to bring greater transparency to this arrangement. These laws are not as robust as we hoped. They nonetheless represent a start, the extent to which the gangs of Gordon House could be pushed at this time. Their effectiveness, however, will depend on the capacity of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) to police the regulations.
In this respect, Mr Holness should be serious about being a transformational leader, ensure that the ECJ gets the resources to conduct its business, and insist that it gets on with the job. He should also ensure that Derrick Smith, who has portfolio responsibility for electoral matters, emerges from the shadows and that the post becomes as sexy as any in the Government.
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:41 a.m. to reflect that Ruddy Spencer is a state minister, not a full minister, in the finance and public service ministry.