Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Editorial | Opportunity to retreat from garrison politics

Published:Friday | June 24, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Among the things previously known, but reinforced by and ought to be learned from the findings of the West Kingston commission of enquiry is how not to manage an extradition request by a foreign government for an alleged criminal. It mustn't be like how the Golding administration handled the one for Christopher Coke, including nine months of stonewalling that culminated with the internal security operation of May 2010 in which at least 69 civilians were killed.

A related, but even more compelling message from that event, which is demanding of urgent attention from all stakeholders, is the need to break the lingering nexus between criminality and politics and, in the process, liberate those exemplars of this relationship; that is, those communities that Jamaicans refer to as garrisons, where one side or another exercises virtual monopoly over political action and behaviour.

With regard to the first of these issues, this newspaper supports the commission's recommendation of an amendment to the extradition law to establish a finite period within which the relevant minister must decide, either way, on an authority to proceed in an extradition. For, as the commissioners observed, dithering led to public disquiet and, we add, instability.

But as we have previously argued, the Government should go even further than the commissioners proposed. It is this newspaper's position that the extradition law, perhaps at Section 9, should be overhauled to make the proceedings, in its initial phases, an entirely legal/judicial process, including the completion of habeas corpus hearings, if a parish judge approves an extradition. Only then should political involvement be inserted into the exercise.

Such technical fixes, as important as they would be, won't, by themselves, substantially change the environment and circumstances in which communities like Tivoli Gardens were created and men like Christopher Coke, who was a crime boss, community strongman and political player, are spawned. The commissioners, for instance, don't accuse anyone of behaving corruptly in delaying the extradition process, in part because, the Government at the time claimed, it was protecting the constitutional rights of one of its citizens.

But there is an important context. Tivoli Gardens, Christopher Coke's redoubt, was the stronghold of, and the perceived to be the command and control centre for, street activities of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), then led by Bruce Golding, who was also the prime minister, as well as parliamentary representatives for the constituency of which Tivoli Gardens was the heart.

 

POSITION OF CONFLICT

 

Observed the commissioners: "Mr Golding was in a position of conflict. He was prime minister and minister with responsibility for defence. He was also Coke's MP and leader of the political party to which Coke was wedded."

It is a reasonable extrapolation that this conflict, in no small measure because of the exigencies of garrison politics, rendered the Golding administration paralysed. When, after a long period of resistance, the Government was forced to act, Coke had had ample time to fortify Tivoli Gardens and call in reinforcements for the action that severely threatened the Jamaican State.

Tivoli Gardens doesn't stand alone as a garrison, and the lesson from it and the events of May 2010 should be lost on anyone. Indeed, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Mr Golding's successor as leader of the JLP, should know that his promise of leading Jamaica to prosperity is unsustainable in a dysfunctional political arrangement of garrisons. It is critical that he engineer a process, including a debate in Parliament on the commission's report, for their dismantling.