Tue | Sep 27, 2016

EDITORIAL - Armadale beyond Mrs Spence-Jarrett

Published:Wednesday | March 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mrs June Spence-Jarrett could not have been surprised by her reported sacking as head of the Department of Correctional Services, given the findings by Justice Paul Harrison into the Armadale tragedy which killed seven girls.

After all, Mrs Spence-Jarrett was at the receiving end of some of Justice Harrison's most scathing criticism in his report on the tragedy at the correctional facility for girls. She was, he said, "uncaring and inhumane" in her decision to allow 23 girls to be kept in a dormitory that should have housed no more than five.

Further, he held, she was negligent in her responsibility to look after the best interest of the Armadale inmates and had been "evasive and less than truthful" when she appeared before the commission of enquiry into the fire.

Withholding resignation

Two things, however, have surprised us in the aftermath of Justice Harrison's report.

The first is that Mrs Spence-Jarrett did not, in very public fashion, immediately tender her resignation, upon the findings becoming public knowledge which, unfortunately, was by way of a leak rather than an official release of the document. It required the formal and specific action of the Public Service Commission (PSC), to which the report was eventually referred, for Mrs Spence-Jarrett to be removed from the post and transferred to another area of government.

It would have been of greater credit to Mrs Spence-Jarrett, and the civil service, if she had been seen to personally take responsibility for things that went wrong on her watch. Public perception is now likely to be that she has been dragged into accountability.

The Armadale incident and the case of Mrs Spence-Jarrett should be used by civil service managers as a case study in new performance and accountability manuals for the public sector, especially in the context of the reform programme ordered by Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

Pressured to act by angry public

Our second observation is of the dispatch with which the PSC has acted since receiving the report. This urgency, we suspect, has much to do with the public anger and agitation over Armadale.

Having held Justice Harrison's report quiet for several weeks before the leak, the security minister, Mr Dwight Nelson, felt politically pressured to act once its findings were known to the public. The PSC was not insulated from that pressure.

The police chief has interdicted a constable who Justice Harrison accused of starting the Armadale fire by hurling a tear gas canister into the dorm. Other officers, who are believed to have contributed to the constable's actions, by failing to uphold procedures, are also interdicted. Hopefully, it is not the expectation or intention of the constabulary that this matter will peter out and die. Indeed, we look forward to specific disciplinary and, if applicable, criminal action against those who have been interdicted.

This must be handled in a transparent manner.

The findings of the Armadale commission are not only about the personalities, whether Mrs Spence-Jarrett or the transferred permanent secretary for security, Major Richard Reese. More fundamentally, the tragedy spoke to Jamaica's failure to look after the welfare of its children and, in this case, those in the care of the State.

And that, in the final analysis, is what the Government has to fix.

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