Fri | Nov 15, 2019

Editorial | Beyond the revocation of visas

Published:Tuesday | November 5, 2019 | 12:33 AM

We appreciate that the American Government is under no obligation, legal or moral, to publicly announce or say why it revokes visas for entry to the United States from Jamaican citizens, regardless of social rank or status. After all, visas, as they often make clear, are granted entirely at the discretion of US authorities.

However, when the United States revokes the visa of a member of another country’s government, or a senior member of its opposition, as happened with Jamaica recently, that is a significant development that requires explanation, if not from the United States, then from the affected parties.

For, while it is not absolutely necessary for a Jamaican minister to hold a US visa to do his or her job, the United States remains the world’s greatest power and international partner with which Jamaica conducts business. The revocation of a visa can complicate that relationship and, in the absence of an explanation of the reasons for the decision, the tendency of the public is to assume it has to do with the integrity of the persons involved.

In this regard, this newspaper welcomes the early acknowledgment by Daryl Vaz, the de facto head of the Ministry of Job Creation and Economic Growth, that he was the target of such a sanction and his promise to resign from the Cabinet if his visa is not restored on appeal.

We, however, have no clarity on the intention of the shadow person for mining and energy and People’s National Party (PNP) vice-president, Phillip Paulwell, so we look forward to its articulation soon, when he returns from his overseas travels.

In any event, this is an issue to be addressed not only by these two gentlemen, but also by their political leaders, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in the case of Mr Vaz, and PNP President Peter Phillips, with regard to Mr Paulwell.

This, of course, is not the first time that senior Jamaican officials, in the public and private sectors have had their visas revoked. In 2011, the Americans rescinded that of then mining and energy minister in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration, James Robertson. They have also revoked the visas of senior police officers, including an incumbent police chief. No explanation was offered in any of these cases, leaving the public to speculate on the causes, usually the worse.

PRINCIPLES AND CODES OF BEHAVIOUR

In the current circumstance, it is noted that the national security minister, Horace Chang, has said that he doesn’t believe that the action against Mr Vaz represented a targeting of the Holness administration. Rather, he suggested, it was an act of individual merit, which, in the circumstance, we wouldn’t deem to be a happy interpretation for Mr Vaz.

On the other hand, while Mr Paulwell has himself offered no specific suggestion as to why he lost his visa, some of his colleagues have speculated that it could be because of his close relationship with the officials in the Venezuelan government and work he has done as a lawyer involving Cuba, both of which are under US sanctions. They have, therefore, sought to frame the Paulwell issue in a geopolitical context, which Dr Chang didn’t attempt with regard to Mr Vaz.

But whatever the basis of America’s action, Messrs Holness and Phillips owe it to the public to declare the principles and codes of behaviour by which they expect members of the Government and their parties to operate, the basis of assessment against these obligations, and the sanctions to be applied when they are breached.

This ought to be part of an ongoing process to assure Jamaicans that while policy may invite sanctions from foreign governments, they can, to a reasonable degree, repose confidence in the personal integrity of public officials. In this regard, we expect that ministers and senior party officials should undergo periodic background checks, in tandem with the annual filings of assets and liabilities statements.

As part of his report, Mr Holness should also inform Jamaicans of how many, if any, members of the current police High Command, and/or the military, have had US travel visas revoked or denied.