Mon | Dec 5, 2016

JFJ critics have lost their soul

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Carol Narcisse, Guest Columnist

I am now completely fascinated by some of the stories being spun about Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), former executive director Carolyn Gomes, and, more recently, former director Susan Goffe. I have been a member of JFJ since 1999 and I am having great difficulty reconciling the many fantastical stories being told, with my own knowledge of the facts and my actual experience.

Take, for example, two letters that appeared in The Gleaner on Monday, August 4. In one letter, Ms Beverly Sinclair gives an account of what took place at the JFJ members' meeting on July 29. I attended that meeting and, interestingly, there is no record that Ms Sinclair did. Her account is a very tall tale that in no way coincides with what I witnessed.

Says Ms Sinclair: "Dr Carolyn Gomes and Susan Goffe went up to the platform and took over the meeting, after which the hand-picked set of persons was said to be the new board members." This is stuff from a very vivid imagination. Sadly, there isn't an ounce of truth in the sentence.

At the JFJ meeting that I attended, no one took over. It was ably chaired by one of the two remaining directors. An item on the agenda was a discussion on the recent happenings in JFJ. The members asked the two remaining directors, along with the former directors present, to give their account. They all sat side by side, at the front of the room, faced the members and spoke in turn. The members benefited immensely from hearing each one's perspective.

Another item on the agenda was the status of the board. On this issue, too, Ms Sinclair's information is inaccurate. Since JFJ is a registered company, and has been since October 1999, its affairs must accord with the Companies Act and with its Articles and Memorandum of Association. Specific clauses of the Articles speak to the number of directors, how vacancies among the directors can be filled, and the power of directors so to do.

Clause 45 provides that the directors may appoint any person to be a director, either to fill a casual vacancy or as an additional director. Clause 49 says that if the number of directors falls below the prescribed seven, then "... the continuing directors or director may act for the purpose of increasing the number of directors to that number ... ."

The two continuing directors acted accordingly.

The meeting went through a very orderly process, as members responded to the urgent situation by identifying and nominating members at the meeting, in good standing, who were willing to be co-opted to the board. The continuing directors suspended the members' meeting, convened their own and came to agreement on co-opting. They resumed the members meeting, made their decision known and the newly co-opted persons were named. No drama and all in keeping with the Articles.

As if the misinformation contained in Miss Sinclair's letter wasn't enough, The Gleaner also gave an anonymous writer's letter the status of Letter of the Day. Carolyn Gomes has said publicly, and documentation in JFJ confirms, that as executive director of JFJ, she oversaw the development of the funding proposal, the process through to its approval and the development of modules for training caregivers in the children's homes. It is a matter of public record that Carolyn Gomes left JFJ in December 2013, which is before materials were developed for and implemented with the wards. Former JFJ Member, the nom de plume of the writer, is not deterred by these facts.

Going further, the writer refers to a letter that then outgoing Chairman Lisa Lakhan-Chen wrote to members (I also received that letter). Says Former JFJ Member: "According to a letter that outgoing JFJ Chairman ... wrote ... even before the sex-education programme caused a serious rift at the level of the board, a powerful minority group of board members was causing tremendous discord as they pushed the board to take over leadership of the anti-Professor Bain lobby."

This is the writer's interpretation as the letter has no such statement. The writer then uses a direct quote out of context, and goes on to falsely claim that the chairman's letter said that "in seeking to address the real challenges that JFJ faced, former TVJ CEO Kay Osborne was recruited as the new executive director and that Ms Osborne went about developing a three-year strategic plan that the majority of directors signed off on" but, says Former JFJ Member, as Mrs Lakhan-Chen puts it, 'not unexpectedly, there was resistance and robust debate' towards the new plan".

Here is what the letter I received actually said.

"I became chairman in August 2013 at a time when the sustainability of the organisation was a constant topic of discussion. We were faced with the following ongoing challenges: difficulty in raising funds ... dwindling and less active membership ... weak public approval ... hostility/non-cooperation from government ... .

As a board we sought to address these issues and worked along with the new executive director to formulate a three-year strategic plan. Among other things, we sought to refocus on a few key areas; re-engage the public; re-engage the Government and political directorate and strengthen the organisational structure. The plan, which was signed off on by a majority of the directors, anticipated potential changes to how we advocate and engage the public and the Government. Understandably and not unexpected, there was resistance and robust debate."

The 'resistance and robust debate' clearly was in reference to the proposed changes to how JFJ advocates. This fact was reiterated by the former board members at the members' meeting on July 29, and was confirmed by other documents sent out by the outgoing chairman. These other

documents include the draft strategic plan and the then executive director's report. These show that there was 'majority' sign-off on the plan because only 10 of the 12 board members attended the meeting at which it was discussed. The writer completely leaves out this detail, along with that Carolyn Gomes and Susan Goffe were among the 10 who attended and signed off on the draft strategic plan!

The robust debate about how JFJ should
advocate clearly intensified with respect to the Bain issue. The
chairman says in her letter: "Concurrent to our own internal
discussions, UWI fired Dr Bain triggering much public debate and
posturing. Even though JFJ rightly agitated for Dr Bain's removal, I,
supported by the majority of directors, did not think it was JFJ's role
to take the lead in this matter, as our efforts would be better spent on
core issues. This action (or inaction if you prefer) led to further and
sometimes more heated internal discussion."

Former
JFJ Member leaves out of the story the chairman's stated view that "JFJ
rightly agitated for Dr Bain's removal" and twists the context of the
reference to JFJ taking the lead in the "matter" - i.e., the matter of
participation in the public debate.

Sadly, the writer
and others might prefer to continue on a path of twisting words,
sensationalising the programme which JFJ implemented in private
children's homes and defaming the character of specific individuals. It
is not an ethical path.

Carol Narcisse is a JFJ
member and civil-society advocate. Email feedback to
columns@gleanerjm.com.