Editorial | Holness must drive consensus on Tivoli report
Peter Bunting's response in Parliament last week to the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry report was to hail it as a vindication of the People's National Party's (PNP) decision, when it was previously in opposition, not to support an extension of the state of emergency under which the operation to apprehend Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher Coke was conducted. At the time, Mr Bunting, as he is again, was its shadow security minister.
"We do not regret taking this course of action (of not supporting an extended emergency), and this report vindicates our decision," said Mr Bunting, reciting the commission's recount of the then government's stalling on America's request to extradite Coke; the social and political instability it spawned; and the excesses that may have been committed by the security forces when the administration finally acquiesced to the US request, and Coke's private militia took on the Jamaican State.
We do not begrudge Mr Bunting his moment of gloat - if it was transient and is at an end. For the finding of Sir David Simmons' commission not only highlights fundamental issues of concern to Jamaica, but provides the country with a platform from which to have another go at reforming dysfunctional institutions that have, for decades, resisted change - including the constabulary and a political process in which garrison communities thrive.
Sir David's recommendations, however, and the broader efforts at transformation they imply, can't be successfully implemented in the absence of multi-stakeholder legitimacy - and, most important, from Jamaica's major political parties, the PNP, during whose administration the enquiry was called, and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which now forms the Government. Significantly, as the report recalled, Bruce Golding, the JLP leader and prime minister at the time of the West Kingston operation, testified before the hearings that it was his government's intention to establish a commission.
PM MUST TAKE CHARGE
In the event, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has political continuation and, if he is serious about transformational politics and economic growth, he must take full, unabashed ownership of the post-enquiry process. He must drive his government, especially the security minister, to an embrace of the commission's recommendations and put energy into building consensus on them with the Opposition. This process must include a parliamentary debate on the report that eschews the tendency of deflecting blame and avoiding responsibility.
The fact to be confronted is that at least 69 civilians were killed in Tivoli Gardens and adjacent communities, of which the commission found prima facie evidence, based on testimony before them, that perhaps 20 were extrajudicial executions. Many people were injured or otherwise abused. These casualties do not include more than a score of military injuries and one death on the day of the initial assault, or the earlier attacks by Coke's gunmen on police personnel and their assets.
Coke and his capacity to raise a private army capable of challenging the Jamaican State didn't just materialise. He was the product of a permissive political culture that partnered with criminality in carving out, for either side, these communities of political monopoly - until Coke, and similar species of political muscle, defied containment, seeking to establish devolved statelets founded in crime. It is a dysfunction that is inimical to social and political stability, without which there cannot be sustained economic growth.
Sustainable change can't be wrought by a corrupt, muscular, paramilitary policing regime. It has to be built on societal consensus. That is the message for Mr Holness.