Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Is Robert Montague an idiot?

Published:Monday | October 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Robert Montague
A.J. Nicholson.
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AJ. Nicholson seems to think so; at least that was what he called the Opposition senator in the Senate on Friday.

And although such a comment is in breach of the Standing Orders, which are the rules governing the operations of the Parliament, Montague refused the opportunity to have it withdrawn.

Despite a ruling from Senate President Floyd Morris who detected the sotto voce comment from Nicholson, Montague said it could not be aimed at him. He argued that Nicholson, Jamaica's foreign minister and leader of government business in the Senate, was talking about himself.

If I were Montague, I would have sat and watched to see if Nicholson would have been bold enough to refuse to withdraw the comment or risk being sanctioned.

Montague, however, may have recognised that he had pushed Nicholson to the point where the barb was inevitable. I will be the last to condone a breach of the rules, and Nicholson should have known better. He should have known by now that Montague's strengths lie in the tabling of a series of mainly wayward questions week after week, pouncing on anything that can guarantee headlines, and ribbing the Government wherever he perceives there is a failure.

Put another way, Montague is like the former West Indies fast bowler Patterson Thompson; he is fast and furious, prone to erratic delivery, and has the potential to hurt you with fast rising ones. But if you can bat, he should not get you out because of his predictability.

The way Nicholson handled him on Friday makes one think he should bat after the roller. His "idiot" comment, though made under his breath, was reprehensible and shows disrespect for his fellow senator, and betrays his impatience for 'wide-ranging' suggestions.

Negotiating with terrorists

The face-off between Montague and Nicholson followed a statement which the minister delivered to the Senate on his recent participation at the United Nations General Assembly.

Montague questioned, among other things, whether Jamaica would be negotiating with terrorists in the event a citizen is captured by ISIS forces.

Jamaica co-sponsored an anti-ISIS resolution at the UN assembly in September. Nicholson, said that by co-sponsoring a resolution against terrorism network ISIS, the country is demonstrating that it is a serious and responsible member of the international community.

Trinidad and Tobago was the only other CARICOM nation to co-sponsor the resolution. Nicholson said it would have been better if all CARICOM nations affixed signature to the resolution.

Nicholson said in considering its position, Jamaica had to take into account the geopolitical context in which the resolution was being tabled. The minister said terrorism in all forms constitutes a grave threat to international peace and security.

Among the things called for in the resolution is for member states to prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls on issuance of identity paper, and travel documents.

The resolution also urged members to intensify and accelerate the exchange of operational information regarding actions or movements of terrorists or terrorist networks through bilateral or multilateral mechanism, in particular the United Nations.

Montague asked what would be the Government's response "if a Jamaican is taken hostage in one of these conflict zones... in light of the fact that there are Jamaicans living in Syria, in Iraq and in other Muslim countries and there are also Jamaicans in prisons in these countries".

In a sotto voce remark, seconds before calling Montague an "idiot", Nicholson asked: "What you want us to do, send the JDF (Jamaica Defence Force)?"

Montague also sought to find out whether Nicholson, while at the UN, discussed the issue of Jamaicans being denied entry to Trinidad and Tobago with representatives of that country.

The Trinidad and Tobago question does not arise; but there is some merit in that about dealing with a hostage-taking situation. However, though a foreign affairs matter, it touches on matters of national security which ought to be discussed in camera.

Montague surely will not agree with the position that it is a matter that should be treated with sensitivity; taken out of the public glare similar to the way in which the Parliament treats the JDF.

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