Fri | Oct 19, 2018

Editorial | Go with the truth commission, too

Published:Monday | December 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Peter Phillips, the opposition leader, has cracked a window to a potential political cleansing that, thus far, has been little noticed, but shouldn't be allowed to pass.

So, not only ought not Dr Phillips be allowed to retreat from his idea for the possible establishment of a truth commission into Jamaica's past of murky, and often violent, political culture, but Prime Minister Andrew Holness must be insisted upon to come to the table. Civil-society groups thus have an opportunity to reprise a proposal they placed on the agenda two decades ago, but which gained little traction from the main political parties.

Last week in Parliament, Mr Holness offered an apology, on behalf of the Jamaican State, for the 69 civilian deaths associated with the 2010 security operation in west Kingston, during their attempt to arrest the gangster and community don Christopher Coke. Some of the dead were casualties from Coke's private militia, but several, a commission of enquiry into the affair held, were more likely to have been victims of extrajudicial action by members of the security forces.


Apology recommended


The commission, chaired by the Barbadian jurist, David Simmons, recommended the apology as part of a process of healing. The one offered by Prime Minister Holness didn't go far enough. It omitted an expression of remorse on behalf of the Cabinet, of which he was a member, for its nearly year-long waffling and delay in executing America's extradition request for Coke, who was aligned to the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

While Coke operated from the pro-JLP enclave of Tivoli Gardens and may have been the most powerful and influential of the politically aligned enforcers, he was not unique. Similar, though less organised or sophisticated characters exist in so-called garrison communities across Jamaica. The phenomenon of garrisons, or zones of political exclusion with overlords, didn't, as Dr Phillips, the president of the People's National Party, observed, start in 2010. They represent a malignancy on the society and body politic that is in need of excision.


Truth commission


Raised in the context of the mishandling of the Coke extradition, Dr Phillips' remark that "maybe we need in Jamaica a truth commission" raised the hackles of many governing party MPs. He, therefore, expanded the time frame that might be covered in any forum, whatever its structure, where the history of this ugly underside of Jamaica's politics and related circumstances might be discussed.

"We can go back to the '70s; we can go back to the '60s; we can go forward to now," he said. "... Going all the way back, we have breaches."

The large point, as Dr Phillips observed, is that Jamaica's political system, though the specific effect may now be residual, encouraged a culture of violence that has to be dealt with if the country is to reach the higher level of civilisation to which Mr Holness alluded in his apology. That, as Dr Phillips put it, is among the matters arising from the west Kingston report, in which the commissioners addressed the need to dismantle garrison communities.

This is not a literal removal of structures, but changing ways of thinking and, most important, how we conduct politics, starting with an end to the vulgarly in-built and unabashed systems of patronage. Mr Holness has accepted, which this newspaper has long campaigned, the relaunch of the Vale Royal talks between the political parties.

While we welcome the undertaking, we now feel, having been aroused by Dr Phillips' waving of the suggestion, that perhaps parallel to Vale Royal should be a truth commission, where there can be an accounting and a public cleansing of the national soul. Talking truths can be liberating.