Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
Prominent attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman has described the referral by acting Contractor General Craig Beresford for the Cabinet to face prosecution as embarrassing to the country.
Wildman said the move by the oversight body demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of the law and the Constitution of Jamaica.
The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) has been requesting Cabinet documents for the last eight months to determine whether four major government projects were being carried out in line with the Contractor General Act.
Wildman told The Gleaner yesterday that the OCG's decision to refer the Cabinet to the director of public prosecutions sends the wrong signal to the international community that Jamaica is unable "to get it right".
Said Wildman: "In the first instance, one must recognise that the Constitution of Jamaica is the supreme law of the land and all other legislation must be read and construed in keeping with the Constitution of Jamaica and it includes the legislation setting up the Office of Contractor General."
Wildman said the Cabinet is the highest policymaking body and it has constitutional recognition and importance.
"The Contractor General Act is an inferior legislation, therefore it cannot be construed as overriding or whittling away the powers given to the Cabinet under the Constitution. Having said this, one must go back to the first principle that under the Cabinet system of Government that we operate, internal deliberations of Cabinet must remain confidential. Nothing that transpired in the Cabinet room, including Cabinet papers and submissions, can be revealed to anyone," he stressed.
Out of place
Wildman, in chiding the OCG, said it was clearly out of place to request Cabinet papers to determine whether the Cabinet was in breach of the Contractor General Act.
"If the Cabinet were properly advised by the Attorney General's Chambers, they could summarily dismiss the request of the contractor general and add a rider that 'you are out of order'."
However, he explained that the contractor general in keeping with his mandate under the legislation could hold the particular minister who has portfolio responsibility for the subject matter liable for any breach of the act. He said that would have to be done without reference to any Cabinet papers or any Cabinet internal deliberations being revealed to him.