Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Editorial | Dwight Nelson’s faux pas

Published:Tuesday | March 7, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Dwight Nelson, a former national security minister, so woefully conflated hubris and vanity with principle as to undermine a seemingly legitimate hold he has on the latter in the Jamaica Rifle Association (JRA) affair. But more damaging is what Mr Nelson has done to reinforce a perception that public officials perceive themselves to be deserving of privilege and, therefore, beyond question and accountable to no one.

On Sunday, this newspaper revealed that Mr Nelson, who served in Bruce Golding's 2007-2012 government, was among 10 members of the JRA who were either suspended or expelled from the association for ostensibly bringing it into disrepute by publicly challenging the leadership about the management of its affairs.

This issue goes back to early 2014, at the height of a dispute between the JRA and government security officials over an ammunition-retrofitting machine that was apparently discovered at the JRA, and whether it contributed, or could contribute, to the illegal/unlicensed flow of ammunition into Jamaica.

Several members of the association, Mr Nelson included, wrote to the Firearm Licensing Authority, which was investigating the matter, to distance themselves from their association's claim that the calibre of ammunition being retrofitted was "uncommon to the Jamaican landscape".

The dissenting group branded that characterisation as "misleading, inappropriate, and dishonest", and questioned the security of the environment within which any reloading of bullets was done and the system of accountability in which it happened.

There was nothing wrong with that intervention if the concerns were genuinely held and the members failed to prevail upon the JRA the danger posed by its behaviour, especially in a society with high levels of crime committed with illegal firearms.

For some, so far, inexplicable reason, it seems that disciplinary hearings against the whistle-blowers were held only in 2016, two years after the initial eruption. Some of the persons who were sanctioned and believe they were wronged have gone to the courts, seeking constitutional redress. That, too, is appropriate.

 

NO REGULATION BREACH

 

Mr Nelson is not among those who have sought relief via the courts. First, he did not attend the JTA's disciplinary hearing because he felt he had breached no regulation. And he was so angry about his suspension that he "tore up the letter".

All those responses are within Mr Nelson's constitutional rights. Moreover, they should not deprive him of any constitutional or other legal protections he ought to enjoy, which he may still wish to exercise.

But then, there are the concerns we raised about Mr Nelson's presumption of himself or others who citizens entrust with high office and in whom they repose confidence.

Here was Mr Nelson's rhetorical comment to this newspaper: "Can you imagine suspending a former minister?"

He added: "This is gross disrespect. I think they were out of order."

Yes, we can imagine Mr Nelson, or anyone else, being suspended from any organisation to whose rules he subscribes if he breaches the regulations. It would be wrong for his rights to be breached, and worse if the act was gratuitous.

The appropriate response would be to challenge any such action in a legal forum, not presume privilege because of status derived from present position or past office. Mr Nelson, in so doing, sent a wrong signal about the attitude of public officials.