EDITORIAL - Farce, brass or constitutional crisis?

Published: Friday | January 4, 2013 Comments 0

JAMAICANS MAY be treating the issue as a farce, but Wednesday's call by Craig Beresford, the acting contractor general, for criminal charges to be preferred against the entire Cabinet is a development of potentially profound constitutional consequences.

We cannot comment on the legal standing of Mr Beresford's demand. But it is urgent that the director of public prosecutions, Paula Llwellyn, rule on the issue and for the attorney general and/or the solicitor general to offer a public interpretation of the constitutional issues that have been raised.

First, though, the development says something grand about Jamaica, its institutions and democracy, of which we can be proud. For, Mr Beresford is not languishing in some jail, having the stuffing knocked out of him by uniformed goons of the state. He is free to pursue the case within the appropriate institutions and to advocate for the cause within the public media.

That is as it should be.

It is to be noted that Mr Beresford is not seeking to have the book thrown at the Government on a claim of its incompetence, in which case he might have had a greater certainty of support. His argument is that the Cabinet, comprising of 20 members - 17 from the House and three from the Senate - has unlawfully obstructed the contractor general from executing his functions and/or failing to comply with his lawful instructions.

The ministers who sit in the House account for 40 per cent of the governing People's National Party's 42 members of that chamber of the legislature, which has 63 members. Their removal from the House, even if temporary, would not on a purely numerical count mean the collapse of the Government. It would, however, certainly trigger a constitutional crisis.

As comedic as these scenarios may seem, it remains in the realm of probability and ought not be snickered at. First, Section 69(2) of the Constitution makes the Cabinet "the principal instrument of policy and shall be charged with the general direction and control of the Government of Jamaica".

GOVERNMENT INTERRUPTED

If the entire collective is distracted fending off criminal charges, its effectiveness in formulating policy and providing oversight to the administration will be compromised. The likelihood of its collapse is enhanced.

Further, it would be quite possible, if the ministers were convicted, for the Cabinet collectively, depending on their sentences and/or response thereto, to end up in gaol - a development, too, that would have major constitutional and political consequences.

We, of course, do not expect any of these scenarios to come to pass in this continued battle of wills between the Office of the Contractor General and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's Government over the extent of the power of the former to police government contracts and to oversee the state's procurement regime.

Two things, however, are notable.

The first is that Craig Beresford may rightly resist any claim to being a clone of Greg Christie, but the quality of his actions and tone of his statements suggest that he is following closely the track of his former boss.

Further, unless the governor general, Sir Patrick Allen, in whose hands the matter rests, has more brass than we think, Mr Beresford is unlikely to be confirmed as the contractor general.

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.

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