Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Editorial | Mr Morgan and biting dogs

Published:Wednesday | September 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Edward Seaga, the former prime minister and early mentor to Andrew Holness, was notorious for his tart one-liners and pithy put-downs.

Once, when he believed he had been wronged by another newspaper, Mr Seaga attacked the matter at the annual conference of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which Mr Holness now leads. "If dawg bite you," Mr Seaga declared, "you no go to dawg, you go to dawg owner." Translation: If you are bitten by a dog, your complaint and search for recompense ought not to be from the dog, but from its owner.

We don't know whether Robert Nesta Morgan, Prime Minister Holness' director of communications, previously heard this anecdote. But he seems keen on adopting the principle. Except, on the issue he purports to attend, Robert Nesta Morgan appears confused about jurisdictional responsibilities.

Mr Morgan is exercised over a bit of reporting and editorial comment by this newspaper relating to his boss' response to comments by the political ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown, regarding the timing of a J$626-million contract for infrastructural work in the parish of St Mary, where a crucial by-election is imminent. So, he complains to Dionne Jackson-Miller in her capacity as "president of the Press Association of Jamaica and a leading member of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group", of which this newspaper is a member. For good measure, Mr Morgan threw in the fact that Mrs Jackson-Miller is also a lawyer.

 

NO POWER OVER NEWSPAPER

 

It is perhaps a display of logic beyond the capacities of this newspaper and its 183 years of existence that Robert Nesta Morgan did not address his correspondence to the editors of The Gleaner, an entity that is operationally separate and distinct and editorially independent from the one for which Mrs Jackson-Miller works. Notwithstanding the fact that she, as

Mr Morgan noted, is a leading member of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group, Mrs Jackson-Miller exercises no jurisdictional authority over this newspaper.

Now for the crux of what offends Robert Nesta Morgan - and fellow travellers who, in a failure of cognitive rigour, rallied to his cause. The political ombudsman had, over the St Mary contract, warned against the abuse of public resources for political fortune - a matter that was raised at Mr Holness' recent press briefing.

This was Mr Holness' response: "Let me start with concerns that have been raised. The contractor general [is] the constituted authority to oversee the contracting process and the National Contracts Commission (NCC) also has a constituted role, in terms of statutory role, in ensuring the contract process is integrous and I respond to them in these matters. The Government is not using state resources for partisan benefit and that is just a definitive statement, and in this particular matter, for the allocation of resources for the road, there is no basis for anyone to lodge any complaints for political abuse of public resources."

For anyone not burdened by the need to spin and who is au fait with context in the art of communication, Mr Holness' response, read against the background of the question, made two points. One is that with regard to the award and execution of contracts, the Government was answerable to the contractor general and the National Contracts Commission - not the political ombudsman.

Having made that point, Mr Holness went on to argue that in the event, there was no partisan use of public resources and, therefore, no basis for complaint. Later, pressed on the issue, he repeated that the concerns "are not valid" but conceded the public's unease with spending of the kind in St Mary so "close to an election". But Mr Holness added: "We are always prepared to engage in a conversation, in a process to have oversight of that; in fact, that would be a part of our bipartisan talks to see how we can mitigate that ... ."

Mr Holness may not have raised his voice. He may be willing to have bipartisan conversations to satisfy everyone that government contracts are not for partisan gain. But that doesn't obviate the fact of his statement that this issue isn't the jurisdiction of the political ombudsman, or undermine an interpretation that the essence of his remarks is that she butt out.