Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Pre-signed letters all Holness’ idea

Published:Sunday | February 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Williams... It's the reponse of Holness which has given rise to the widely held view that I am the creator, author and deviser of these letters of resignation.

On November 15, 2013, the day of my purported resignation from the Senate, I publicly stated that I DRAFTED the pre-signed undated letters of resignation - DRAFTED them, not CRAFTED them - at the request of Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.

It is now being treated as undisputed fact that the letters were my IDEA and solely my doing. I reject the statements that gave rise to that view. To understand how this view has come about, it is necessary to go back to the affidavits that were filed in the court.

In my affidavit filed on November 19, 2013, in the constitutional case, I said, at paragraphs 7-11, the following:

"That I was actively involved with the leader of the Opposition in his deliberations as to his choice of persons to recommend to the governor general of Jamaica for appointment as senators.

"That the leader of the Opposition was deeply concerned that no one should be appointed who was not likely to be, during the term of office, committed to the position of the Jamaica Labour Party in respect of the Caribbean Court of Justice and who could therefore be likely to vote other than in accordance with the official position of the Jamaica Labour Party on that issue.

"That after discussion with the leader of the Opposition, it was agreed that I would prepare undated letters of resignation to be signed by each person who was to be recommended for appointment to be used by him in the event of any member appearing to take a view or position on the issue of the Caribbean Court of Justice other than in accordance with the official position of the Jamaica Labour Party on that issue.

"Three letters were prepared by me for each person to sign.

On the instructions of the leader of the Opposition, it was explained by me to each person who was considered for appointment as a senator, the reason for which the letters of resignation were required.

"That in preparing these letters, in explaining their purpose to the other persons to be appointed Senators and in myself signing them, I acted in the belief that they would be used only for the stated purpose and for no other purpose."

In reply to these paragraphs of my affidavit, the opposition leader in his affidavit filed on November 21, 2013 said at Paragraphs 5 and 6 of his affidavit that:

a) "Concerns were expressed by members of the party, including Mr Williams about the unity and stability of the opposition senators having regard to its history whilst in opposition.

b) Accordingly, in his capacity as an attorney-at-law and leader of opposition business in the Senate he

devised a scheme which he advised would preserve the stability and unity in the opposition Senate, which he further advised was constitutional and which he would present to the opposition senators.

c) Consequent on the scheme devised and executed by the claimant, I received the letters ... which were created and drafted by the claimant.

d) I did not have any discussions with the claimant about the use of the letters for any particular purpose including a vote against the CCJ as alleged."

It is this response by the opposition leader in his affidavit and his repetition of them in his pronouncements following the Constitutional Court decision, which have given rise to the widely held view that I am the creator, author and deviser of these letters of resignation. The well-coordinated and ferocious campaign in the media and on social network sites since the court's decision was designed to reinforce the false premise that these letters were solely my idea from start to finish. This is simply not correct and I refuse to leave this gross inaccuracy unchallenged.

As I did not file any further affidavit in the case, let me now address the points in the opposition leader's affidavit:

Re a) above - I know of no member of the party who, between December 29, 2011, the date of the general election, and January 16, 2012, when those letters were signed, expressed concern about "the unity and stability of the opposition senators". I certainly had no such concern and did not express any such opinion.

Re b): I did not devise any scheme as the letters of resignation were drafted at the specific request of the opposition leader for the stated purpose of use by him in relation to the JLP's position on the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Re c): I repeat that no scheme was devised by me.

Re d): I state categorically that the reason given by the opposition leader for requesting the letters had ONLY to do with the JLP's position on the CCJ.

Perhaps the entire matter would be best understood if I set out ALL the facts leading up to the DRAFTING of the letters by me, which are as follows:

a) Shortly after the general election of Thursday December 29, 2011, I was at the Jamaica Labour Party headquarters when the opposition leader drove into the premises. This, I believe, was on Friday January 6, 2012, in the mid-afternoon. Apart from the employees, I was the only party official there.

b) In a friendly manner I admonished him for driving himself, and he said that he had given the security the evening off, was coming from home, and going back home.

c) We both went into his office and he told me that he now had to consider appointments to the Senate. He took a piece of paper from his pocket and said that he had some names, that mine was the first one and was ticked off. His challenge now, he said, was to select the others.

d) I suggested to him an approach to his consideration of persons to be appointed, which he accepted, stating that the approach was a good one.

e) We then began to discuss names, and from that first discussion on Friday, January 6, 2013, he said that he was uncomfortable in considering appointing certain persons as he could not be sure that he could rely on them to be faithful to the party's official position on the CCJ, and that debate, he was sure, would be coming soon.

f) Early the following week, the opposition leader and I had two further discussions regarding appointments to the Senate. In the next discussion on either Monday or Tuesday, he told me that he wished to have persons to be appointed to the Senate sign an undated letter of resignation to be used by him in the event of any member appearing to take a view or position on the issue of the CCJ that was not in accordance with the official position of the Jamaica Labour Party and asked me to prepare such a letter.

g) On Friday, January 13, 2012, sometime shortly after midday to the best of my memory, the opposition leader told me that he had been advised by the Government that the official opening of Parliament was on Tuesday, January 17, and that the letter was now urgent as he wished to have them before making his appointments. I promised to show him a draft that day.

h) I then drafted three letters, which I showed to the opposition leader, who expressed satisfaction with

them. The only difference between what I showed him and the final letter was, first, the name of the witness was not on the draft and, second, the date the document was to be witnessed was not on the draft.

i) The opposition leader advised me of the final six other persons that he had chosen, that he was reserving one space for later, and asked that I advise the other six persons to come to the office on Monday morning, January 16, 2012, to sign the letters prior to him advising the governor general of his appointments. I did so, and on the Monday morning, all the persons came, whereupon I advised them of the opposition leader's requirement for them to sign the letters, which they all signed.

This is the simple straightforward account of what in fact took place.

When I met with the opposition leader recently - on Wednesday February 11, 2015, I made it clear to him that I would not allow the version of the events as set out in his affidavit to remain unchallenged. I refuse to be unfairly cast as the villain in this matter and history must not be distorted.

We all must take responsibility for our actions, and I remain appalled, disappointed and outraged at the distortion of the facts. I have publicly apologised for my role in preparing these letters, which I did not at the time deem to be unconstitutional. When I decided to file my court claim, I did so to challenge the manner in which these letters were used by the opposition leader. My lawyers advised that the letters themselves were unconstitutional and argued the point successfully.

I had previously served as a senator for 11 continuous years, appointed by three JLP leaders, and had faithfully carried the party's official position on fundamental issues.

If I had any difficulty with any fundamental party position, my principles would dictate that I voluntarily resign. If I had changed my position on the issue of the CCJ, for example, I would have resigned forthwith so that there would have been no need to use pre-signed letters.

But I see no principle in being asked to resign because of any position that I may take in a contest for leadership within the party. I fail to see the principle in resigning, or worse, being forced to resign for not supporting a candidate in a leadership race. To my mind, this is even more unprincipled when, as is the case, I did not come out in support of either candidate, which is a fact known to all.

How the letters came to be used otherwise than for the purpose for which they were requested and given is that the opposition leader, after the leadership election victory on Sunday, November 10, 2013, wished to have en bloc resignations from all senators.

In a caucus meeting of senators convened by me on the day after the leadership elections, Monday, November 11, 2013, six of the seven senators present indicated their agreement to give new resignation letters, and, I believe in fact gave to the opposition leader new resignation letters addressed to the governor general. I expressed the view at the meeting that I saw no reason to resign. I met with the opposition leader on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, and told him that I was not resigning. So Christopher Tufton, who was not present at the meeting, and I, were the two persons who refused to give new resignation letters.

My affidavit will show that when I met with the opposition leader on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, I told him that I had kept out of the contest between himself and Audley Shaw because of my having worked closely with both of them. His response, as set out in my affidavit, was that "those who did not support [him] have to make way for those who supported and that those who did not support could be considered in the future ... ". I regarded this as contrary to the right given to every member of the JLP to support who they wish to support in internal party elections, or, to support no one at all.

Let me pre-empt the inevitable negative campaign and castigation that I will face from factions within the JLP, who view ANY disagreement with 'leader' as an attempt to "mash up the party", as the culture of JLP politics is that 'leader does no wrong' and so, by extension, anyone disagreeing with 'leader' MUST be wrong.

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