Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
A year after Andrew Holness was installed as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), former Chairman Mike Henry is charging that he was unconstitutionally prodded in the post in the aftermath of Bruce Golding's sudden resignation.
Henry's emphatic pronouncement comes as the JLP explores avenues for a new chairman with the capacity to reinvent the organisation, following its misfortunes in two national polls within the last 11 months.
Henry, who is the last substantive chairman of the JLP, since Robert Montague has been acting for the past 11 months, is also insisting that he is merely on sabbatical.
He has accused the party hierarchy of railroading the constitution in not only its bid to dispose of him, but to install Andrew Holness as the JLP leader as well.
"I never resigned as chairman," he declared. "I went on sabbatical from the party, and I said I would not stand again at that point in time and I still will not stand again. All I am trying to do is to clear the records."
Henry stressed that he went on sabbatical to facilitate the decision of the party to commission a forensic audit on the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP). "My position as chairman was to protect the constitution of the party," he asserted.
Added Henry: "Even in the run-up to this transition (of leadership), you will recall that I was never at Terra Nova Hotel (where the decision to install Holness as JLP leader was made) because the transition was never constitutional," he said. "When Andrew Holness was consensually supported, I was still the chairman of the party."
Henry claimed that his failure to attend the meeting was because he was not duly advised as chairman. "However, I would not have gone either way because that is not the way you transfer leadership," he declared. "But if it was a consensual approach, then that's the party's consensual decision coming through MPs (members of parliament) and leadership, so I leave that alone."
Reacting to Henry's claim, Holness said: "If there are issues with my nomination, there are appropriate avenues and fora in the party where these things ought properly to be dealt with."
Holness stressed that the JLP has been painstakingly careful in following its constitutional arrangements for the selection of all its executive.
"The party is now in rebuilding mode under the theme 'Vision, Focus, Build, Connect'. … We encourage all members to work along that theme as now more than ever the country requires a responsible opposition that is focused on providing solutions to the serious economic and social challenges that beset our people."
Added Holness: "It requires a selfless vision for the benefit of the people and the representatives who are willing to build that vision for the betterment of the people …
General Secretary Aundré Franklin could not be reached for comment, but his predecessor, Karl Samuda, is contending that Henry is confusing the nomination by the parliamentary group for the position of prime minister or chairman of the Cabinet at the Terra Nova Hotel with that of party leader.
"The present leader was nominated and that nomination was endorsed by all four area councils and there were no other nominees and was, therefore, made the elected leader of the party unopposed by virtue of being the sole nominee," asserted Samuda. "He was nominated within the required time frame."
Samuda stressed that the Terra Nova meeting to which Henry referred had nothing to do with Holness' nomination as JLP leader but as prime minister of Jamaica to replace Bruce Golding in that capacity. "Don't confuse his prime ministerial position with that of leader of the party. Mr Hugh Shearer became prime minister of Jamaica and he was not an officer of the party."
He added: "One doesn't have to be an officer of the party to be prime minister. He or she is only required to be a member."
While accusing Henry of being mischievous, a senior member of the JLP told The Gleaner on condition of anonymity that Henry was "academically correct" as it relates to the "letter of the law", but charged that he conveniently ignored the spirit of the constitution.
In relation to the position of chairman, Henry said the constitution demands that an election be held as shortly after (annual) conference as possible.
"The party decided that because the (general) election was going to be announced in December, it conceded that we should wait until after the elections," said Henry.
"Now it is 11 months later. During that time, the party and leadership had asked for a forensic audit, so I went on leave, and if the leader is stating that he could not find anywhere to place me, I obviously had to assume that everybody was waiting on the audit to be presented," he added. "Both the election and the audit are out of the way, yet nobody has asked me about my position … . No one has corresponded with me even after the JDIP decision."
Henry said it was for this reason that he offered his resignation as minister of transport and works, but not as chairman of the JLP.
"I resigned as minister to stand aside to allow the forensic audit, so it has come to the point to where we are right now."
He added: "My focus is on the constitution of the party. Has it been protected or adhered to? … We are looking at a delegates' conference (instead of the traditional two-day annual conference). Is that definitely in place?"
Henry also had some other questions for the JLP leadership: Are the delegates properly registered to facilitate such a conference? Does the constitution of the JLP need to be reviewed/renewed to bring it into the modern era to prevent the repeated problems of the past?
As far as August 2000, ahead of the annual conference in which he was slated to challenge former JLP leader Edward Seaga, Henry has called for fundamental changes to the constitution of the party as a prerequisite to its return to a strong political force.
As he did 12 years ago, Henry also cited the need for fixed leadership terms for party officials, the prevention of the general secretary of the party from holding a seat in the House of Representatives and having deputy leaders elected by the party's national conference.