Editorial | Mr Chuck’s appalling lack of judgement
Delroy Chuck’s public whinge about how law-enforcement agencies went about the arrest of former education minister, Ruel Reid, and his alleged accomplices on corruption charges was not only a monumental exercise in poor judgement that weakened the Government’s claim that it doesn’t interfere in the work of investigative bodies. It had more than a whiff of conflict of interest.
In the circumstance, not only should Mr Chuck, the justice minister, withdraw his statement – which he has done – but Prime Minister Andrew Holness should distance himself from it as part of the effort to ensure public trust and confidence in the independence and professionalism of these agencies, including the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
Mr Reid was dismissed from Cabinet seven months ago in what has emerged as a major scandal involving fraud and cronyism at the education ministry and one of its institutions, the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU). Much of what is publicly known about the issue emerged at hearings of parliamentary committees, primarily as the result of questions from opposition members, who appear to have had the benefit of leaks from whistle-blowers.
When, earlier this week, Peter Phillips, the opposition leader, pressed the Government on the status of the investigation, Horace Chang, the national security minister, argued that he was treading on dangerous ground by inviting political involvement into what ought to be an independent process.
“I will remind … (Dr Phillips) that the bodies currently conducting their statutory duty to investigate are independent and should be insulated from political interference,” said Dr Chang, who, at the time, was also acting as head of government in Mr Holness’ absence.
Two days later, coincidentally, perhaps, Mr Reid, his wife, and daughter, as well as CMU President Fritz Pinnock and St Ann local government councillor Kim Brown-Lawrence, were arrested on corruption charges after predawn raids and searches of their homes.
Mr Chuck had problems with the way the bodies involved, led by the Financial Investigations Division and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, conducted the operations, complaining especially of their “Nicodemus-in-the-night” approach. He didn’t see the arrested persons as potential flight risks and would have preferred if they had been invited to a police station to be charged and granted bail.
NOT A REGULAR CITIZEN
Those observations might be a point of reasonable debate coming from someone else. But Mr Chuck is not a regular citizen. As minister of justice and a senior member of the Government, he sits in high authority, with the capacity to influence the actions and behaviour of law-enforcement agencies, which, as Dr Chang said, ought to be “insulated from political interference”. Indeed, it is a moot point whether Mr Chuck would have raised these questions whether these were not socially and politically connected persons, especially, in the case of Mr Reid, aligned to the governing party, and if, indeed, he has declared such concerns when similar tactics were used with other citizens.
Further, Mr Chuck queried whether the investigative agencies received a final green light from the director of public prosecutions with regard to the arrests. While Jamaica’s DPP has the constitutional authority to intervene in, or halt, any criminal case before the courts, there is no law that insists that the office has to be consulted before law-enforcement agencies lay charges, although, as the Privy Council noted in the 2011 case from Antigua and Barbuda, Police Commissioner v Steadroy Benjamin, there is worth “in a good, mutually respectful, working relationship between the police and the director”.
But perhaps the most egregious fact of Mr Chuck’s intervention in this matter is that Carolyn Chuck, who represented the Reids at the time of their arrest, is the minister’s daughter. Ms Chuck is listed on the website of Delroy Chuck and Company as the managing partner, since March 2016, of the law firm, from which Mr Chuck is said to be on leave.
As Mr Chuck should know, conflicts of interest relate not only to the direct acts, but circumstances and behaviours that may invite the perception thereof. In this case, the minister needs to assure the public that his statement wasn’t, in part, in defence of familial or other interests.