Tue | Jul 23, 2019

Orville Taylor | Don’t shoot the sheriff, shoot corruption

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:22 AM

Someone shot the ‘The Sheriff’, with an orange-tipped bullet, and though it was not a fatal hit, it was deep enough for him to bleed. Bystanders and even the shooters themselves have been looking out to see whether or not his blood is bright-orange or if the wound will reveal deep-seated ‘gang green’. Yet, it couldn’t have happened to a better person, because there must come a time when we call spades spades and not worry about being called ‘shovel makers’.

Senior attorney and Queen’s Counsel, KD Knight, has baulked that some ‘comrades’ appeared to cast doubt on his allegiance to his party, when his law partnership, Knight, Junor and Samuels, made the decision to represent Floyd Grindley, former general manager at the Petrojelly group of companies. In Knight’s own words, “My representation of Floyd Grindley is causing some vitriolic angst to be directed at me by certain Comrades.” Grindley, who apparently has some esoteric knowledge of labour law, which would make him think that he has a case, has gone to one of the best set of minds in the practice of law.

KD has been an outstanding member of the legal profession since I was a ‘bwoy’ and a stalwart of the People’s National Party (PNP) since at least the 1970s, when the current ‘Comrade Leader’ Dr Peter Phillips was chanting and sighting up His Majesty. Indeed, I rather doubt that any of the current parliamentarians, in either of the Houses of Parliament, has more pedigree or length than KD in service to politics and, in particular, orange politics in Jamaica.

The ‘defensive’ attorney, clearly ‘prosecuted’ by the criticism, has pretty much stated that the People’s National Party (PNP) is not feeding him or paying his workers. Moreover, he and his colleagues are attorneys who happen to be PNP members. However, they are not PNP lawyers, making the point that in the past, PNP-affiliated lawyers, including his firm, have represented members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Thus, there ought not to be any discomfort with the decision. At least, not on political grounds.

Knight is right and wrong is wrong. So, if Grindley is unjustifiably terminated, his political affiliation is irrelevant. Anything else would be a sad indictment on our nation.

Yet, KD has hit the nail, and perhaps himself, on the head as well. One will recall that Dorothy Lightbourne, a veteran from the Jurassic 1970s like Knight, had accused him in the original Mannatt Dudus enquiry of having made deeply divisive and even dangerously tribalist statements in the past.

It is not my task here to determine if her recollection was compromised by time or not. What matters is that seeds of tribalism were sowed and nurtured in that period. As a result, the current legacy is that there is a set of Labourites and Comrades who believe that nothing from the other side is good and that right is only right when members of their tribes do it. We might not want to take ownership of it, but the very devaluation of life in Jamaica today has its genesis in a period when it was acceptable to say, “all Labourite/Socialis’ fi dead!”

A Teaching Moment

As sad as it is, this is what was created by many from Knight’s generation. Hopefully, this will be a teaching moment for those in politics, who look to usher in a new era in politics and governance.

Yet, interestingly, Knight also seems to understand this very well. Just two months ago, he made a declaration in the Senate, while decrying the shame associated with Grindley’s former place of employment and during his tenure. He stated that we will not have a new Jamaica until we eradicate corruption and recognise that corruption is corrosive “… the people in Petrojam did not understand that fundamental.” In his usual strident fashion, he asserted that public officials must keep their “sticky fingers off taxpayers’ money”. For Knight, the level of corruption at the governmental level, perceived or real, must end.

Thus, clearly, he believes that Grindley was victimised by corrupt practices and corrupt bosses who dismissed him without either proper cause or proper procedure. Having taken the case, there is nothing else that Knight, being an officer of the court, can say. After all, no one has the right to go to court or to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal and make any statement that he believes to be mendacious. Therefore, I am absolutely sure that this most senior member of both the legal fraternity and the political landscape is completely convinced of the innocence of his client. Indeed, KD is not a mercenary; he is the Sheriff who is sworn to uphold law and order.

Therefore, a reasonable man would conclude that Knight is trying to right one of the many wrongs committed by Petrojelly, even if his client might himself have contributed to some of those very wrongs which caused the learned counsel discomfort on March 22, 2019. Only lawyers understand these contradictions, but as I have often stated, legal truth and academic truth are different things.

Nonetheless, I have to side with him and anyone else who is fighting against corruption.

As we still await the clearance of the prime minister and other elected officials from both sides of Parliament by the Integrity Commission, let me profess some scientific/academic truth. Inasmuch as the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) measures what people believe to be the level of venality in the society, it is perception rather than facts which influence voters.

Here are some sobering facts: the CPI fell three points before the PNP’s loss in 2007; it was at the lowest of 31 in 2009 when the Dudus crisis was ensuing; the JLP lost the next election; the CPI fell in 2016 from 41 to 39. Homicides and murder of police officers tend to be high when the CPI is low.

Only truth and transparency will set us free, but it must be substance and action; not just talk.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.