Tue | Aug 11, 2020

Orville Taylor | Delayed departure of public prosecutions

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2020 | 12:23 AM

There are two things that the current Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Paula Llewellyn, has done in her lengthy career that have left me uncomfortable; and no, it is not that she irritated the hell out of her former boss and predecessor, Kent Pantry. In fact, Pantry, whose name I often mispronounced, is someone I respect deeply and was sorry to see him go. Were it up to me, I would have given him a post-retirement contract, too.

Jamaica is one of those ‘Third World’ countries whose demographic data make them look First World. Indeed, our nation has the average citizen looking towards a life expectancy of 75 years. When the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) was established, the typical Jamaican died before he or she reached 60. We are living longer, fitter after retirement, and have minds sharper than a barber’s razor. Compulsory retirement for persons in the public sector at age 60 is a waste of resources and dysfunctional.

Inasmuch as we have seen attorneys like ‘dirt’ being produced, there is a dearth of really good, experienced ones. This is true for this country with a relative high unemployment rate but at the same time having one of the lowest tertiary ratios and number of persons with university degrees in the hemisphere.

Sending home top public servants simply because they have reached an arbitrary age of 60 is plain ridiculous, and at worst, hypocritical. In any event, we have a justice minister who will be 70 years old in a few months, a security minister who is just two years younger, and members of the Bar who had dinosaurs as pets. Our Leader of Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, is a fit 70, and the Queens’ representative is just two steps away from his 70th.

Never mind the fact that the Speaker of the House is 84 years old, and to bring the discussion home, the minister who is responsible for the NIS is a spritely 85 years of age.

HIGHER PHYSICAL PROWESS

In some professions that require higher levels of physical prowess, there is space for an earlier retirement date. Thus, police officers, for example, should not ever go past 69.

One principle in offering post-retirement contracts is the special body of knowledge and competence that the person has. Often, despite the best of succession plans, there is simply no complete transfer of knowledge. For example, if the current leader of the Opposition retires this year, there would be a big gap, which could not be easily filled. Therefore, as long as there is justification, the extension of the employment of Ms Llewellyn’s tenure, until a ripe old age of 63, is not unusual.

Nonetheless, there have been cases where the actions of Ms Llewellyn seemed to have Peoples’ National Party (PNP) politicians in her crosshairs and others where Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) stalwarts have been dragged through the coals. Yet, I have seen people of the green and orange tribes escape as if coated with Teflon. Looking at the evidence, the majority of murder accused prosecuted by her office have been convicted.

POOR TRACK RECORD

Still, the discomfort that the leader of Opposition has with the extension of her service cannot be treated as frivolous and must be respected. For him, “Jamaica’s reputation as a jurisdiction rife with corruption has grown in this period, and it is troubling that in such an environment, the Office of the DPP, from all objective accounts, has a poor track record in the prosecution of corruption cases”.

Dr Phillips is a social scientist, and he understands the importance of empirical evidence. Thus, he must have a basis upon which to make such a statement. Either he is saying that she has been incompetent, or she has been wilfully not delivering as she should. Either way, he is saying that she needs to get the Dulcimina grip and go.

Given the role of the office, as with the chief justice and other independent arms of our governance system, my preference is that any appointee to such offices must not only be the result of consultation, which obviously took place, but more important, consensus, because of the potential divisiveness this carries. One really would prefer an agreement by both parties as to the appointment.

Yet, given the public utterance, it is now a matter of politics and not simply governance. Phillips may very well be right, but are his timing and judgement on spot? What will have been achieved by his public disapproval for her? In the event that he wins the next election, will he have tainted any possible good relationship with her? Won’t the reputation of the office now be undermined?

The die is cast, though. Three more years for Paula – win, lose or draw.

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.