Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Very careful consideration and advice

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 1:00 AM

I'm told about a security guard down at the old Public Works Department who used to see a 'worker' go out the gate daily with a wheelbarrow full of rubbish, supposedly to empty it into the gully. One day Guardie just got a sense and, feeling suspicious, he stopped workerman to look through the garbage. Nothing. It all checked out. Just rubbish. After that, Guardie checked the rubbish daily. Nothing. It was weeks later when workerman had long gone that Guardie realised all the wheelbarrows were gone too.

This week, I remembered that story when breathless reporters known to be shills for the Government broke news that Holness has been provided intelligence that parties connected to newly-minted telecommunications provider Caricel are considered by our security partners a serious threat, and that the licenses therefore ought to be withdrawn. That's the garbage.

The key subtext, though, was the careful design of the report to settle the question that Holness never previously had this knowledge, and that it was fresh information just now reaching his ears via a briefing from Luis Moreno, US ambassador. Trust me, we're now looking at the wheelbarrow!

Because what a bangarang if it emerges that Holness already had this intelligence and knew perfectly well how the Americans, British and Canadians feel about Caricel's connected parties?

And what if these foreign intelligence services can show that he knew? Wouldn't his premiership hang on them keeping this terrible secret from going public? Wouldn't such a man be fatally compromised?

 

WAS HOLNESS TOLD?

 

So, let's explore if it's at all credible that Holness could be just coming now to the intelligence that there's a problem with Caricel. The first such question that occurs to me is: Did Bobby Montague brief Andrew Holness about the relevant national security concerns prior to September 14, 2016?

I rephrase for emphasis:

Did our national security minister warn our prime minister and minister of defense that Jamaica's closest national security partners had serious concerns that the Shower Posse - Jamaica's most fearsome transnational criminal gang, linked to drug-running, scamming, illegal weaponry trans-shipment, and with the persistent need to launder money - was looking to legitimise itself through the acquisition of a cellular license?

The question isn't, of course, limited to the interaction between Montague and Holness. The same inquiry needs to be made of the attorney-general. Did she brief the prime minister prior to September 2016? In particular, is it true that the attorney-general produced not just one legal opinion about granting the license to Caricel, but actually two such opinions?

What about other sources from which Holness almost certainly would have acquired knowledge of the grave allegations being levelled by law enforcement? What did the police high command and the Jamaica Defense Force know? And did they brief the prime minister? I'm talking about something more than the 'there is no open investigation' uttered through pursed-lips, which is an obvious bureaucratic dodge issued under political pressure. In similar vein, notice the OUR's classic piece of mumbling here, which can be summarised: 'we don't know who the shareholders are, so we can't say that they are not fit and proper.'

How about telecoms minister Wheatley, directly in charge of the sector? Wouldn't he, bearing direct responsibility, have apprised himself of the reasons Bruce Golding summarily tossed out a similar application, involving some of the same people here, for what was then known as Gotel?

Recall, by the way, that Andrew Holness was a member of the Golding Cabinet, and therefore, would have been on notice almost a decade ago about some of the connections. On this one, Bruce did the right thing.

So the questions remain: What did Holness know? When did he know it? What did he do about it?

Please note that only a creeping disdain, perhaps born of disappointment like my own, can explain the US embassy's infamous tweet. It makes all Holness's subsequent talk of diplomatic back-channelling appear patently fabricated. Diplomatic back-channels for sharing intelligence concerns would, rather obviously, pre-date the in-your-face resort to social media shaming. Among governments and jilted lovers alike, social media confrontation comes only after the private talk goes unheeded.

 

ACCOUNTABLE

 

Now if a man tells you he is acting only after 'very careful consideration and advice', you are entitled to hold him accountable for his actions. After all, he's telling you that he took action deliberately and in full view of the consequences.

Plus, he has ruled out that he has acted in a fit of absent-mindedness. No man could possibly say that he has acted after 'very careful consideration and advice' if he is nonchalant about the facts. On the contrary, he has gathered the intelligence, considered the circumstances, applied his mind to all the facts, and made his decision.

That is why, at the very least, Holness should now show us that he took all such deliberate steps to get the requisite intelligence. If he can show that he did so prior to September 14 2016 when he self-consciously took complete ownership of this Caricel mess, then the fact that he was ignorant of the views of the Americans, British and Canadians, would be, although still spectacularly difficult to fathom, something of an excuse. But can he show that? I don't think so.

Isn't it true, Andrew, that you were personally briefed by US Intelligence in September, 2016? And if so, doesn't that dynamite the claim that you have just come into possession of knowledge necessitating the revocation of the license? Yet, in September, you inserted yourself in front of your responsible minister, rose in Parliament, and told every Jamaican that 'after very careful consideration and advice' this license was to be issued.

Here's the bottom line. If Holness failed to gather ALL information available to him when the matter was so controversial and the contractor general was jumping up and down and saying 'STOP!', it goes to his judgment. If he did in fact have the information, but then went ahead to issue the license, it goes to judgment and character. Either way, this is another sad chapter for Jamaica.

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