Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Political hurricane season already?

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2016 | 6:09 AMDaniel Thwaites

This hurricane season has begun with the strengthening of a weather system that has some ominous clouds. We’ve all been watching it for a while. All this in a week when many in the media seem to have agreed to sit with the prime minister for photo ops while not bothering to ask the most pressing questions on the public mind. It is surreal.

Look, once I saw the barrel loads of crabs in St Thomas emerging to reclaim their island, I should have known it would be an interesting week. Audley science strong, bredda!

I had already written about the questions raised by Mr Holness’ enormous palace, most recently to acknowledge that while the rest of the world was throwing itself into a frenzy about the Panama Papers, we had already passed that stage of political development and are approaching that whole issue with serene mature disinterest. More recently, I’ve even learned from counsel to Mr Holness, Patrick Bailey, that St Lucia has become a parish of Jamaica, so won’t be considered ‘offshore’ any longer.

All the same, not in my wildest imaginings did I consider that lurid representations could come to light such as presented by the ‘18 Degrees North’ programme. I watched with fascination, but also with dread and a sense of sadness. It is too soon for a political hurricane.

‘RELEVANT AUTHORITIES’

How long was the programme? One hour? Bossy, the powers that be – those who Desmond calls the “revelant aatarities” – need to update that old saying about a week being a long time in politics. A week? One hour is now an eternity.

Well, look at Julian Robinson. It’s been some years since Julian’s cricketing career, but he just slapped a weird googly away for six. As I write, in response to queries about his plan to buy an expensive house, he has released his integrity filings to the public. It barely took a day. I expect to look at the filings and find my suspicions confirmed, namely, that Julian was intelligent enough to marry rich. Anyway, the release stands in stark contrast to Holness, who promised full financial disclosure, but has not delivered.

Let’s back up and gather some more context about what’s going on.

I’ve already mentioned Audley’s advanced science. My next observation is that Peter Phillips may have chosen the wrong profession. I’m thinking he could have been a phenomenal boxer with a deceptively dangerous left hook.

Consider that Bruce Golding’s government came clattering down around him because of a question asked by Phillips. That question was followed up by a few hundred more from K.D. Knight, at the end of which Golding limped away from public life with schoolchildren saying, “Pathologically mendacious.”

Today, because of another question from Phillips, Holness is showing, within the first few days of his administration, signs of extreme vulnerability. Don’t let the silence fool you. Look closely at Andrew’s lip. There’s blood. And there are hurricane-force winds over the horizon.

Ah nuh me seh so! It was his attorney. So let me hasten to agree with that attorney, Gordon Robinson’s, assessment that the allegations in the programme, if true, are career-cancelling. The other side of that ‘agreement’ is that, if false, they are cruel libel.

With all that said, just recall that the man who delivers the blow isn’t necessarily the man who sent it. To speak more plainly, it was during the internal JLP leadership race that the murmurs about Andrew’s holdings hit the mainstream. And most assuredly, Audley stands to benefit more than anyone else if this sad episode progresses much further.

But as I write, Mr Holness’ legal team has secured an injunction against the further airing of the programme this Sunday. Notably, the injunction was sought ex parte, meaning that TVJ had no opportunity to make their case.

It turns out that Mr Holness’ team had issued warnings prior to the programme’s airing, warnings that seem to have delayed it till now. What that does tell us is that lawyers on TVJ’s side may have already vetted the programme and decided that, in their view, it wasn’t libellous.

Now I’m mindful of the adage that there is opportunity in crisis, and, truly, perhaps there is opportunity for Jamaica here.

Where is that promised legislation that will facilitate the impeachment of politicians?

What are we going to do about the press laws that suppress legitimate questions? Time to update the libel laws.

What about the laws regarding the disclosure of assets for persons, like politicians, in sensitive positions? Shouldn’t politicians be able to pass a fit-and-proper test?And shouldn’t that be public? 

RESET EXPECTATIONS

Expectations of the electorate are being reset. Have you had a look at the declarations that, according to the Representation of the People Act, candidates for public office have to make of their election expenses? It’s a joke.

Actually it’s worse than a joke, and bears all the hallmarks of having been designed by a semi-literate scammer. The questions deliberately gather very little real information. And even that little is sequestered from the public. How can that make sense?

Then the Integrity Commission filings of parliamentarians are also kept secret. Why? I’ve come to the view that if you want to stand for public office, you must be willing to share your personal financial information.

It may well be that every major purchase of a politician will be made public. The earnings and ownings of their wives and close family will also have to bear scrutiny. Again: Why not? Oh, and this being Jamaica, let’s not forget girlfriends, sweethearts, concubines, and outside pickneys.

It’s a sad time for Jamaica with this early political hurricane season. But there are opportunities going forward to do things differently. I hope we seize them. Hurricanes can also clean away a lot of debris.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.