Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Foreign policy adrift at sea

Published:Sunday | June 30, 2019 | 12:00 AM

It would appear that Jamaica’s foreign policy is drifting along without clear direction, rather like the little boat carrying the five lost fishermen who were picked up by the US Coast Guard and allegedly treated like chattel. Unsurprisingly, if there’s a rudderless ship, the US government will swoop in and give it direction.

I’m not one for the anti-American nonsense, let’s be clear about that. If it weren’t for the US Coast Guard, I suspect the Caribbean Sea would be a drug-infested swamp ruled by pirates. It’s already too much like that right now, but it would be far worse.

So I’m hardly an enemy of the Shiprider Agreement. It is, in broad outline, a necessary part of international cooperation to slow down the trade in narcotics, guns, and even people.

Sadly, we have shown little interest and less capacity to patrol and control our very expansive waters. Which, by the way, is hardly surprising. You wouldn’t expect a state that can’t protect its citizens even a few yards from a police station to magically be doing a fantastic job patrolling the Pedro Cays and all the open water surrounding them.

We’ve heard that drone technology may come to our rescue on the ocean, but apart from the announcement, has there been any change? Technology deployment is still rudimentary. If JamaicaEye got off the ground successfully, I might believe drones out at sea might become a reality.

So The Gleaner landed a sharp jab last Sunday in its editorial:

“After its circumlocutory waffle to suggest the Government’s lack of knowledge of the affair, without actually saying so, the foreign affairs ministry was forced to concede it wasn’t really ignorant of the issue, although it was in the dark about the human-rights violations.”

What the newspaper calls “circumlocutory waffle” is what Opposition Senator Lambert Brown, inclined to be a tad more cutting, simply said was a lie.

The minister, Kamina, offered:

“I simply share the fact so that not only the Senate, but the public, is aware that when I stated that the ministry was unaware of the allegations, and when I stated that, I could not confirm. I was making inquiries as to whether this was a matter related to [the] Shiprider [Agreement]. I was legitimately so doing.”

Translation needed

This could use some translation. People beware, because the minister was unaware that she was aware, which, naturally, wears on Government’s credibility in this matter. It’s enough to make you weary. Legitimately.

It seems to me that regardless of what might emerge about the innocence or guilt of the fishermen at the centre of this latest controversy, the US and Jamaican governments have treated them unacceptably. Let’s not be naïve: Our fisherfolk aren’t at all above trafficking while doing a little fishing on the side, but my God, man, even a proven trafficker would deserve a phone call.

So can we get a straight story about whether, and with what conditions, the Jamaican Government waived jurisdiction for its nationals? Enough with the circumlocutory waffle!

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Steven Watt grabbed the front page of The Gleaner, advising our Government to stop pointing fingers at the detainees, and “… get some better guarantees for the rights of Jamaicans. So, for example, they should guarantee that Jamaican nationals should have a right to make a phone call to their family members, or their consular representative, or their lawyer if they are ever arrested on the high seas, and that should be a condition of the waiver of jurisdiction.”

Is that too much to ask? A phone call to notify the families that the detainees haven’t drowned, aren’t marooned, or are adrift?

I’ll tell you what is really adrift, especially if you put this Shiprider outrage alongside Government’s plan to tief Venezuela’s Petrojam shares, and then on top of the mysterious shadiness with Israel: Jamaica’s foreign policy. And what’s adrift and without direction is certain to run aground in due course.

More Circumlocutory Waffle

Speaking of circumlocutory waffle, it’s time to revisit our sleepy Integrity Commission.

Dirk Harrison, the former contractor general, is out and about revealing that till this point, he still doesn’t have his instrument of appointment and that no prosecutions have been initiated in the 15 months of the Integrity Commission’s existence. It’s a matter this column has followed on and off.

It seems the Integrity Commission is boldly persisting in error even after the public drubbing for missteps with the Rooms on the Beach report.

There was the infamous press conference, where we were treated to the fable – the circumlocutory waffle – that the impasse with the former contractor general was all a grand misunderstanding. The commissioners, who individually are impressive people, collectively came across as doddering half-wits.

Here is what Dirk has had to say in the latest outing:

“Regarding the relationship between the commissioners of the Integrity Commission and I, all I will say at this time [is] some of their accounts are incomplete, and that is my forensic best to describe the commentary at this time.”

I don’t need to tell you what word Lambert Brown would use instead of ‘incomplete’. The truth is that they’re doing their earnest best to push Dirk Harrison out and are hoping that the public either doesn’t notice, or, if they notice, doesn’t care.

So enough of the circumlocutory waffle from this lazy and wutliss Integrity Commission. The foreign donors need to shut off the money, and local civil society needs to demand that they act up or vacate their posts.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.