Tue | Jun 25, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Rescued from the brink

Published:Sunday | December 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Last week, the Jamaican political landscape shifted like a tectonic plate, producing a massive civic earthquake as one nine-day wonder was superimposed on another.

Just as Jamaicans braced to deal with the Petroscam quake, the PNP's announcement that it would no longer support any further extension of any of the three states of emergency (SOEs) created a national furore.

"Come on over, baby, whole lotta

shakin' goin' on.

Yes, I said come on over, baby; baby,

you can't go wrong.

We ain't fakin'; a whole lotta shakin'

goin' on!"

In an address to Parliament of the highest statesmanship calibre, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips carefully analysed all constitutional, social and public policy factors to be considered in deciding whether or not to extend. He concluded that the Opposition couldn't justify any further extensions. Twitter, the most recently constructed Jamaica Labour Party garrison (JLP), went berserk.

The Opposition was taken to task for withdrawing support without presenting "an alternative plan"; for failing to consult with anyone; and, of course, that juicy bit of political propaganda of which Josef Goebbels would be proud, of killing people by ignoring the number of "lives saved by the SOE" and condemning "the vulnerable" to a future of gunshots, mayhem, and death.

Please, Lord, when will we ever learn? Worldwide and local historical experience ought to have taught us that abrogation of fundamental human rights as a crime-fighting tool produces only a dangerous value system likely to inflict more long-term national harm than good. Government can't enforce the law by breaking the law. Peace, order, and good government, every MP's constitutional obligation, can't be achieved by repeatedly authorising arbitrary arrest and detention without recourse to the courts. That strategy can only beget a police state. Police states beget oppression. Oppression begets totalitarianism. Totalitarianism begets democracy's demise.

It's important for independent thinkers to concentrate on the fundamentals of any civilised society, especially one founded on democracy. Jamaica's Constitution, the supreme law that supersedes all others and designs Jamaica's national structure, insists that SOEs:

Can only be declared to last for FOURTEEN DAYS.

Can only be extended by three months, and, even so, only by a two-thirds majority in both Houses.

 

BINDING CONSTITUTION

 

We, as citizens of this great nation, have a simple choice. Either we accept these fundamental legal structures as binding on us for excellent reasons of promoting civic stability and civilised treatment of all citizens or we don't. If we don't, we should commence a socio-political cultural revolution as China did in 1966; throw out the Constitution; and accept the current government as dictator.

But if we do accept the Constitution as necessary, binding, and rationally required, we MUST wrap our heads around the incontrovertible fact that the Constitution's framers deliberately placed an awesome constitutional responsibility upon the Opposition NOT to act as a rubber stamp for attempted SOE extensions.

If we accept our constitutional arrangements as sincere, pragmatic, and sound, we MUST accept Peter Phillips' proposition that the Opposition has been charged with being citizens' first line of defence should a panicked or helpless government seek to use SOE provisions oppressively or as a political tool of routine crime fighting.

The Opposition has a solemn constitutional duty to carefully assess when an SOE's purpose (to quash an extraordinary threat to the State) is exhausted and, if so, to restrain any government seeking to arbitrarily continue an unlawful abrogation of rights. An Opposition failing to take this task seriously neglects a seminal duty.

Government should, therefore, stop its unattractive pouting; recant the unworthy propaganda about the Opposition not wanting to save lives; and get on with the job of equipping police to fight crime using upgraded police tactics, including modern intelligence-gathering methods. A responsible Opposition must care about the effect of extreme SOE operations on everybody's short- and long-term safety. A responsible Opposition cannot allow itself to be driven by fear of political fallout. This is the highest calling of any politician, and Peter Phillips answered that calling admirably on Tuesday.

Let's be real. This Opposition has given this Government EVERY opportunity to implement its "crime plan" for more than a year. It 'kibbered' its mouth (mostly) and voted for every extension. Should it do so in perpetuity? Why hasn't Government taken the year to modernise, equip, and de-corrupt the JCF so that when the SOEs inevitably end, we'll have a professional JCF to combat crime? Why would Government depend on the Opposition to present an alternative crime plan? Why didn't Government use the year to take the bull by the horns?

"Well, I said, come on over, baby, we

got chicken in the barn.

Come on over, baby, I got the bull by

the horn.

We ain't fakin; whole lotta shakin'

goin' on!"

I see signs of apparent arrogance seeping into the Government's approach to governance. This was absent when it won a shaky, one-seat majority. Now that the JLP seems confident of its popularity and re-election prospects, it appears to be falling victim to familiarity-breeds-contempt syndrome.

On what earthly basis is the onus on the Opposition to initiate consultations? Phillips unambiguously reported that the Opposition sought legal advice and sent a team to St James to consult directly with those most affected by the abrogation of fundamental rights. With whom else should he have consulted?

Surely Government knew it needed Opposition support for this SOE extension? Would it have been so hard to do a little courting? Why cut off Government's nose to spite its face by unpleasantly refusing an Opposition motion in parliamentary committee to invite former detainees or their families to address the committee? Didn't the PM explain the location of the new Parliament by calling it the "People's Parliament", to which they should have easier access?

Why try to bring the Office of the Public Defender into disrepute? Why allow yourself to be accused by the clerk of the House of usurping the Speaker's authority by instructing her to effectively shut down a parliamentary committee looking at the auditor general's Petrojam report? That only sends a message to voters that you have something to hide.

Why not call Peter Phillips to a private, confidential meeting with PM/Horace Chang and show him why the police believe they need more time? How would that hurt? Phillips was a national security minister not so long ago and proved he understands confidentiality, including from his own political colleagues where necessary. Why simply come to Parliament, abruptly chuck (oops, sorry) murder stats at the Opposition, and condescendingly tell the Opposition to whip out its rubber stamp?

Then when the Opposition politely declines, why would you make the media rounds accusing it of not wanting to save lives? C'mon, man! When dealing with matters of courtship, a little tenderness goes a long way.

"Oh, she may be weary

and young girls they do get weary

Wearing that same old shaggy dress

But, when she gets weary,

try a little tenderness.

You know she's waiting

Just anticipating

For things that she'll never, never,

never, never possess, (yeah, yeah)

But while she's there waiting (without them)

Try a little tenderness (that's all you gotta do)."

Try a Little Tenderness, written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Harry M. Woods, was first recorded (December 8, 1932) by the Ray Noble orchestra (vocals: Val Rosing). Today, the only version that matters is sung by legendary rhythm and blues balladeer Otis Redding, who died tragically in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. His final recording (Sittin' on) The Dock of The Bay (written by Redding and Steve Cropper) became the first posthumous number one hit on Billboard's Hot 100/R&B Charts.

Jerry Lee Lewis, first cousin of TV evangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggart, was a brilliant rock and roll performer, famous for his dexterity with the boogie-woogie piano. But his career nosedived after he married his 13-year-old cousin and incurred the industry's wrath. Jerry Lee made Whole Lotta Shakin Going on, written by Dave 'Curlee' Williams, his own in 1957, but it was first recorded by Mabel Louise Smith (stage name 'Big Maybelle') in 1955.

With readers' permission, I'll close with a message for the PNP. In my opinion, your refusal to support yet another SOE extension was like 20 lawyers at the bottom of the sea - a good start. General election is two years away. DON'T YOU DARE come to the electorate then without a comprehensive crime plan that doesn't depend on an SOE. Your repeated demand that Government disclose the principles of a comprehensive crime plan means that, without disclosing one to the electorate, you ADMIT you have NO RIGHT TO BE GOVERNMENT. Now you have TWO YEARS. Stop the politicking and get to work!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.