Orville Taylor | Trigger-happy Dalling - did FLA boss fire staff too quickly?
I didn't sit my black self and look askance at our history of Jamaican politics and trade unionism and pretend to be some pusillanimous observer when workers' rights were being fought for over the past century.
No, clearly, I was not around nor an active trade unionist in 1938 when workers were rising up. For that matter, neither was Alexander Bustamante, a worker representative then. However, after he was introduced to the working class by St William Grant and A.G.S. Coombs, he quickly recognised that the best way to win an election was to have the working class firmly behind the party, which he founded in 1943.
This is a classic formula. Treat workers with respect and you remain in power for a long time. Treat them badly, and, unless you have an opposition leader who the working class has fallen out of love with, you will hug up the opposition benches and leave Parliament without a bang. Never mind the misleading homophone of his name, Shane is no Dalling, because he has performed a diptych of dismissals after just a few months in an organisation.
Tighter controls needed
Don't be mistaken. this is not any kind of support for corruption or misconduct that has been taking place at the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA). Indeed, given the sort of individuals who I have seen with firearms and the decadent conduct they have displayed, I know that there needed to be tighter controls and greater scrutiny. Apart from the fact that too many idiots and drunkards have guns, which is bad enough, there are persons whose psychological profiles should not allow them to even carry a slingshot, and if there was a way of literally disarming them, they wouldn't even be able to use their fists, much less back out a legal pistol.
And that is the least of the problems, as with so many government agencies, such as those dealing with the environment, many times, the foot soldiers and honest and clean public officers say no to applicants for permits or contracts or simply try to uphold the law. Then, some 'licky-licky' colleague or powerful 'top man' causes a reversal, and suddenly, the rejected, whose reputation or character is so stink that a John Crow (turkey vulture) might think twice before approaching, is given the permit to build, contract to provide services, or, in this case, get a firearm licence.
Furthermore, I welcome the resignation of the erstwhile board and the investigation of the activities of the FLA by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption task force (MOCA). Indeed, I would want to suggest that a special division of MOCA be set up for firearms. However, the acronym might cause some discomfort to pronounce.
I am big on investigations and timely arriving at judgments based on a meticulous weighing of evidence and processes to determine culpability. I also accept the notion that a person's job is like a piece of real estate that should not be removed frivolously or without due process.
It is not simply my own perspective, but a number of cases have established precedents over the past century in Britain and here since the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act was passed in 1975. Before that, the principles of natural justice are a deep part of British and Jamaican jurisprudence and are binding concepts before any commission or tribunal.
Doubtless, something stank at the FLA. For what it was worth, and, in my opinion, people might need to go to prison. Yet, there is this mystery person, a person equivalent to the whistle-blower nicknamed 'Deep Throat' in the Watergate scandal of 1972 to 1973, which ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. This unnamed FLA informant is said to have sent some very disturbing allegations to the contractor general and prime minister and leaked to the media.
According to this faceless person, senior officers "use their offices to abuse, intimidate, and bully staff ... into executing their corrupt deeds". One - and perhaps more of the senior personnel under reference - " ... reportedly breaks protocol and repeatedly seeks to instruct others to do so, to meet the desires of those from whom he has collected monies for such favours ... ." Therefore, in Deep Throat's opinion, they "... must be transferred, sent on leave, or fired from the FLA pending the outcome of an investigation into their involvement or knowledge of corruption of the FLA."
Not surprisingly, the accuser from the dark side reported that the officers were complicit in a scheme, which led to the destruction of the critical piece of evidence - the FLA documents related to the still missing firearm of the convicted Patrick Powell, who walked free from the 'X6 murder charges, which surrounded the killing of schoolboy Khajeel Mais. All of this may or may not be true. Nevertheless, what is irrefutable is that someone at the FLA allowed people who were disqualified from owning firearms to be granted licences. For that, someone must be held accountable and even do the months of hard labour while playing domino games with the aforementioned.
However, Dalling, though not schooled in industrial relations, knows about natural justice and due process. It is the cardinal right of every person to be made to answer and defend himself against charges, and unless the circumstances are very exceptional as determined by special statutes, his accuser must be known. Nothing in the reports indicate that good industrial relations practices were followed, and the union, the Jamaica Civil Service Association, claims that they were not.
Poor labour practices do not only affect the dismissed worker, guilty or not. They are a major source of demotivation for innocent workers who remain because of the exemplary nature of the action. It is for that reason that matters relating to industrial disputes have special tribunals and commissions to deal with dismissals.
However this matter goes, I cannot agree with arbitrary dismissals without proper procedures. A country and workplace are like sea vessels: as long as you support the wrong futtock, you can never be right, no matter how deep you go into the ship.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.