Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Editorial | Carolyn Warren opens door to national dialogue

Published:Wednesday | July 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM

 

Few will disagree with Carla Gullotta that Carolyn Warren's achievements over the last quarter-century, including her current job as CEO of the Government's National Energy Solutions (NESol), is "testament to the power of rehabilitation".

It is not enough, however, this newspaper believes, for the revelation of Ms Warren's drug conviction to be debated merely in its political context and for issues it raised to be painted in partisan colours. It is an opportunity, we feel, for a healthy discourse on complex and sensitive matters with which many societies, not least Jamaica, have grappled, often failing to reach consensus.

Until last week when Phillip Paulwell, the shadow energy minister, put the public spotlight on her by querying whether the NESol CEO had served time in jail on a drug conviction, Ms Warren was little known to most Jamaicans. Mr Paulwell's action was largely an attempt by the political Opposition to maintain pressure on an administration rattled by allegations of corruption at the Petrojam oil refinery, over which the energy minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley, was relieved of that portfolio. Dr Wheatley had responsibility for NESol.

 

Relevance of information

 

The politics of the issue apart, the Warren matter poses questions about the responsibilities of persons with criminal convictions and of potential employers, including whether the former are obligated to disclose, and the latter have a right to know of their prospective employees' criminal records. Further, should there be a period of limitation on any relevance of such information?

Ms Warren said that she did not disclose her cocaine trafficking conviction, and three-year suspended sentence, prior to her appointment "because I know I am not the same person and I figured people may try to judge me". In many jurisdictions, and some companies, this failure of disclosure would not have been possible. Job applicants have to tick the box about criminal records. In any event, companies, including in Jamaica, sometimes conduct background checks to protect themselves from potential legal liability of hiring the wrong people.

But it isn't only that Ms Warren didn't disclose her conviction. She apparently wasn't asked. And neither, it appears, did her prospective employer think it necessary, or relevant, to conduct a background check.

 

Breach of openness

 

The fact that she didn't tell will be considered by many people as a breach of the openness and honesty expected of someone being hired for a CEO job, although it is largely agreed that the timing of such a revelation would, in the circumstance, have been important and sensitive. In the event, her failure to disclose has caused embarrassment to herself and the NESol board.

Surprisingly, though, NESol's governors haven't declared the agency's policy, if it has one, on this matter, or whether it accepts, as Mr Paulwell claimed, that it failed in its due diligence, or whether Ms Warren's conviction, especially since it happened so long ago, mattered at all. In other words, do competence and performance outweigh any error of the past, and is there any level in any organisation that is off limits because of a criminal conviction?

Ms Gullotta, who runs an organisation that seeks the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of former convicts, argues that "we are robbing ourselves of some of our richest human resources" if Jamaica continues to hold to the idea that convicts can't contribute to the society. We agree. That, though, isn't the end of it.

As in all such difficult matters, changing attitudes demand frank and honest discussion. No party can claim an automatic right to moral high ground. The Carolyn Warren episode has opened up an opportunity for that dialogue, including on whether legislative guidance is required on any of these issues.