Where is the truth?
Lambert Brown, Contributor
Diplomatic relations have gone sour between Jamaica and the United States of America. Many Jamaicans here and abroad are being embarrassed by the actions of our Government in how it conducts relations with the USA. Our prime minister was too busy to visit with their previous president. Now, there has been no US ambassador here for over a year and our efforts to change our ambassador in Washington seem to be going at a snail's pace.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Ken Baugh, at least two high-profile Jamaicans have had their US visas revoked. Rumours abound of more cancellations that have taken place or are to come. People are scared of applying for new visas or the renewal of visas. Business people worry about the negative impact that this deteriorating relationship with our major trading partner will have on trade, jobs, government revenues and fiscal targets, including our agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Our Government needs to assure us that this fallout between two friendly countries is not the result of prime ministerial arrogance and raw partisanship at the expense of the national good.
The United States Government and our Government are at odds over the extradition request for a strong and influential supporter of the prime minister's political party. The Jamaican people are caught in the middle of a fight that is not in our national interest. The American Congress has been told that there are "serious questions about the government of Jamaica's commitment to combating transnational crime". In addition, the Americans are saying that "Jamaica's processing of the extradition request has been subjected to unprecedented delays, unexplained disclosure of law-enforcement information to the press, and unfounded allegations questioning US compliance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and Jamaican law". These are very serious allegations against our country. In a world where the international community marches in lockstep and severely punishes rogue or non-compliant states, it could be detrimental to Jamaica's future if these allegations were indeed true.
Speaking in Parliament on March 2, Prime Minister Golding said that the allegations were not true. He said that the American request for the particular extradition "was found to be in violation of the law. The Interception of Communications Act makes strict provisions for the manner in which intercepted communications may be obtained and disclosed".
According to the prime minister, "The evidence supporting the extradition request in this particular case violated these provisions." Unfortunately, neither our head of state nor any of his ministers has had the decency or displayed integrity in telling us which specific clause of the Interception of Communications Act was violated by the government of the United States of America. Our Government is expecting the law-abiding citizens of Jamaica to accept, in blind faith, its declaration of innocence. That is not enough.
Left to wonder, ponder
We must be given the facts so we can determine right from wrong and truth from lies. Instead, we have been left to wonder, ponder and fear that, like in so many other cases, our Government may be wrong. The experience shows that on the Public Service Commission firing, the dual-citizenship cases, the Toll Road case, and the use of $1 billion from the National Insurance Fund for small businesses, Mr Golding and his advisers were found wanting as far as the legal arguments went.
The Interception of Com-munication Act (ICA) is available on the Internet. The prime minister commented in Parliament that "this violation" that the Americans are accused of committing attracts a penalty under the ICA of "a maximum fine of $5 million, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to both such fine and imprisonment."
There are only two clauses in this law that provide for such penalty. The first such clause speaks about "a person who intentionally discloses the contents of any communication" obtained either by (a) adherence to the law or (b) contrary to the law. Jamaicans expect that our Government would be ensuring that only authorised personnel from Jamaica are allowed to collect communications under the law. How then can the Americans be justly accused of violating this section of the law? It would appear that this is not the section violated by the US government.
The only other relevant section of the law would be Clause 16 Subsection (9), which says that the minister with responsibility for national security can direct that any intercepted communications be disclosed "to a foreign government or agency of such government where there exists between Jamaica and such foreign government an agreement for exchange of that kind of information and the Minister considers it in the public interest that such disclosure be made". Writing elsewhere last Tuesday, Ken Chaplin, who normally writes in support of the Government stated, that "the Minister of National Security issued no such direction in the Coke case". If this is true, then questions would have to be asked as to why we are not fulfilling our treaty obligations to share information.
The Government needs to convince the nation quickly that this debilitating dispute with America is not because the minister of national security failed to live up to his obligation to cooperate under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. Failure to convince the nation will leave well-thinking Jamaicans with the view that the US government is correct when it wrote in the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (2010) that "Jamaica's delay in processing the US extradition request for a major suspected drug and firearms trafficker with reported ties to the ruling party highlights the potential depth of corruption in the government".
Corruption in our government is not what we want to accept as true, but unless we are given credible and cogent evidence to the contrary, it will be an inevitable conclusion that we will have to recognise as reality.
This is certainly not the picture of Jamaica that will attract tourists and foreign investors. It is not the picture that is conducive to economic growth and prosperity. The Government must recognise that changing this devastating and demeaning picture of our beloved country requires statesmanship, which will do what is right by defending the national interest. Partisanship has brought us to this path of sorrow. When will we ever learn that the shortcut of partisanship is drawing too much blood from our body politic and destroying our nation?