Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Editorial | Curiouser and curiouser at FLA

Published:Tuesday | August 1, 2017 | 8:00 AM

Robert Montague, the national security minister, needs to speak with greater clarity about the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), as well as to order the agency's chairman, Dennis Wright, to imbibe a heavy dose of transparency. And perhaps, under the circumstance, Mr Wright might consider whether he, the rest of his board, and the top staff are fit for their jobs.

As things now stand, that is decidedly questionable. In recent days, Mr Wright has sent up to 100 firearm licence files to the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) for its investigation. At the same time, the authority's deputy chairman, Dennis Meadows, announced that he has "recused" himself from the board - which we interpret to mean that he is going on a kind of indefinite leave of absence while MOCA conducts its probe.

Significantly, Mr Meadows, who, like Mr Wright, a governing Jamaica Labour Party politician, says that he expects the MOCA investigation to vindicate his "good name and character" in the face of "innuendos and political mischief", although by whom and in what form are not clear.

Further, it is fuzzy whether the investigation that Mr Meadows has urged MOCA to conduct, and that relating to the files submitted by Mr Wright, are one and the same thing. For, we would be surprised if a police agency would launch an investigation in the face of "innuendos" in the absence of at least prima facie evidence of a crime having been committed. And in respect of the action by Mr Wright, he has declined to say what impelled him to take that course.

It is all especially curious given the actions of the present regime, which advertised itself as a clean-up crew but is seemingly mired in slime, despite the initial announcement that the files subject to the MOCA probe all predated the appointment of Mr Wright's board.

Herein lie the seeming contradictions and cynicism.

Last November, Mr Montague said of the FLA: "The system is broken or corrupted. Either way, it is not good for the people of Jamaica or the Government."

 

GROSS MISMANAGEMENT

 

That was in the immediate aftermath of the so-called X6 murder trial in which businessman Patrick Powell was acquitted of killing teenager Khajeel Hyde. Mr Powell never turned over his gun to the police, so was not availed for forensic tests. Further, it was discovered that Mr Powell's file was missing from the FLA's archives.

There were hints by the authorities of corruption, or at best, gross mismanagement by the previous leadership of the FLA. Mr Montague ordered a probe of how Mr Powell's file disappeared, and as we understood it at the time, a wider review of the FLA's systems, processes, and procedures. The completion of that review, we expect, would have had greater urgency given a suspension by the United States of firearm shipments to Jamaica in the face of the Powell revelations.

The findings and recommendations, though, were not made public, and there is no indication of whether the fix was certified by the US government. But there was another revelation in recent days of a senior police officer complaining to his bosses of an instance earlier this year of the FLA issuing a gun licence to someone believed to be involved in a lottery scam and other crimes and who had a case in court. The specific gun is an exhibit in the case. There now seem to be other complaints of irregularities.

Mr Montague has again ordered a review of the FLA's systems, this time to be conducted by Justice Seymour Panton, the chairman of the FLA's Review Board - a sort of appeal tribunal for persons denied firearm licences. It would be useful to know what the first review recommended, and if reforms were implemented, or whether there is a collapse of that new system.