Sat | Dec 16, 2017

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Lawmakers and lawbreakers

Published:Thursday | November 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Months ago, Hampton High School principal Heather Murray's attendance at the bail hearing of the Reverend Rupert Clarke, the pastor who was charged with having sex with a person under the age of 16, drew much outrage from many quarters. More recently, former politico, Dr Jephthah Ford, was convicted of perverting the course of justice for attempting to bribe a police officer to release two men who had been caught with nearly $60 million. However, when Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange attended a sentencing hearing on his behalf and appealed to the judge to spare Ford from imprisonment, the previously outraged quarters of society have been largely silent. Why?

 

A tale of two acts

 

Principal Murray's decision to attend the bail hearing for Rev Clarke may not have been the most appropriate given the position she held and the circumstances of the case. As principal of an all-girls school, she supposedly represented certain ideals, and should have been prepared to maintain her distance, in public at any rate, if she wished to uphold the principles and dignity of her office. Minister of Education Ruel Reid subsequently announced that Principal Murray would be sent on leave, "given the way Murray's actions had been interpreted, and the controversy having affected her administrative responsibilities".

Whoa! Draw brakes, people. Can it not be said that Minister Grange's attendance at a sentencing hearing and appealing for leniency for someone convicted of what is essentially corruption is almost as paradoxical as Principal Murray's attendance at a bail hearing for an accused rapist?

Let's take emotions out of the equation for a moment, as I know many people are understandably more fired-up about rape and carnal abuse than about corruption. Let us also bear in mind that Principal Murray attended a bail hearing for an individual who was charged but not convicted: everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty! In Minister Grange's case, she attended what was essentially a sentencing hearing for a convicted person and made a formal appeal to spare him from being imprisoned: lawmaker supporting lawbreaker.

 

Think before you act

 

People, we all know corruption is rife throughout our society. Minister of National Security Robert Montague just spoke to the matter, stating that the corruption is 'pervasive and runs through every level of society'. Fully agreed, and given this widespread cancer and its ruinous effect on our society, those who engage in corrupt practices and those who support the perpetrators should be taken to task.

Members of parliament and ministers of government represent the people of Jamaica, and by virtue of the level of trust reposed in them, they are supposed to be paragons of virtue, especially against corruption. Sadly, we all know the truth. However, when sitting ministers publicly lend support to persons convicted of corruption, more so to the point of appealing against imprisoning them, it sends a distasteful message to society.

 

Sanctions

 

Minister Grange's decision was certainly not the most appropriate given the circumstances of the case and the public trust that is intrinsic to the position she holds. She, like Principal Murray, failed to uphold the principles and dignity of her office. She therefore ought to take some time away from office "given the way her actions can and have been interpreted".

Any failure on her part to do so should signal to the rest of Jamaica that she does not see her actions being in conflict with her public office, thereby suggesting that perhaps she is not a fit and proper person to hold such office. Similarly, if she fails to vacate office voluntarily, the prime minister should intervene, lest his inactions be interpreted as support for the wrong ideals.

I am willing to bet that if Principal Murray had gone to court and appealed for leniency in the case of a convicted rapist, her sacking would have been immediate: no questions asked, and rightly so. Minister Grange's case, in principle, is no different.

There should be standards for acceptable conduct while holding certain public offices, regardless of the status of the office holder. Failure to uphold such standards, as in Minister Grange's case, lends for the paradigm 'do as we (politicians) say, but not as we do, for we won't be held to account but you will'.