Sun | Mar 7, 2021

EDITORIAL - Clarity still needed in the Manatt affair

Published:Friday | April 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM

There are many things wrong with Jamaica. But one of the things that are good about the country is the quality and skill of its foreign service. Just ask foreign service officers of other countries.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which forms the Government, whose leader is the prime minister and several of whose officers are members of the Cabinet apparently don't share that view.

It is either that, or the party's general secretary, Karl Samuda, like Prime Minister Golding before him, has been badly briefed. Or, worse, Jamaicans are not being told the truth about what and when the administration knew about the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips affair and the diplomatic stress between Jamaica and the United States, stemming from the Government's refusal to grant the extradition of alleged narcotics trader and gunrunner Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

No other credible explanation

We can find no other credible explanation why, according to Mr Samuda, "persons in the JLP" bypassed Jamaica's foreign service and engaged American lobbyists to "assist in facilitating the opening of discussions between the US authorities and the Government of Jamaica and, thereby, seek to resolve what had become a treaty dispute between the US and Jamaica".

Mr Samuda's explanation might have seemed logical if he had suggested that it was really deep back-channel political moves to resolve an intractable political issue. But even a junior foreign ministry desk officer knows what would be required to open discussions on a dispute between Jamaica and other countries.

Moreover, it seems incredible "that persons within the JLP", through Mr Harold Brady's firm, could have engaged Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to effectively act on behalf of the Jamaican Government, with that information remaining secret to senior members of the executive. Even assuming that Prime Minister Golding was initially kept ignorant of the deal to afford him plausible deniability, there remains serious questions about when, after his initial denial of a relationship between Manatt and the Government, the PM was given the full story.

Manatt's insistence

It remains significant, too, that despite Mr Brady's claim that errors in his initial contract document with Manatt were quickly corrected, the US firm, to the end, insisted that it worked for Jamaica.

Mr Samuda makes heavy weather of the claim that the Government did not pay Manatt's bill. It is a pertinent question whether the money came directly from these "persons within the JLP", whether they had deeper interests in Mr Coke's case beyond the foreign affairs implications and whether they can face criminal and/or party sanctions for their actions. These "persons in the JLP" should be named.

Two other points in Mr Samuda's statement remain especially curious. The first is that Solicitor General Douglas Leys did not seem to need the permission of the attorney general or the foreign ministry to invite Manatt's staff to his meeting with State Department officials. Apparently, however, he sought approval from State Department to bring along his guests, about whose law firm Dorothy Lightbourne, the attorney general, seems not to have been curious when later briefed about Mr Leys' meeting.

Further, if Dr Ronald Robinson, the junior foreign minister, had sought the advice of his staff, he might have been advised to avoid even a "brief social encounter" with the Manatt staff. What in this case is the meaning of brief, social and encounter?

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.