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EDITORIAL - Why AJ should sincerely apologise

Published:Tuesday | November 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Whatever may be his shortcomings, A.J. Nicholson, the foreign minister and the leader of government business in the Senate, is not stupid. Neither is he normally vulgar nor insensitive to issues of gender, including the exploitation of women. He has a tendency, though, to shoot from the hip, which gets him into trouble.

But at his age and with his experience, he ought to have learnt when, even in an absence of intent, he makes a faux pas, or is perceived to have done so, one should retreat gracefully, even when provoked by nonsense and ignorance. The contretemps in the Senate last week over Mr Nicholson's "flexi-rape" comment was such an occasion.

We, too, are not certain of Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte's real intention or expectation with her observation that under the new flexible workweek law, women will now be legally required to work at nights - which they have done for decades in breach of the law - and that women are raped at nights. But we supposed that she was addressing the matter of insecurity in Jamaica, which is a phenomenon not of nights and with an impact not only on women.

Be that as it may, Mr Nicholson apparently interpreted the remark, in the context of what the law is attempting to achieve, as a ridiculous observation and dismissed it. He wanted to know whether she wanted a clause on the bill on "flexi-rape".

His flippancy backfired. The comment bordered on the vulgar, but, more important, had the undertone of a male chauvinist being fast and loose with the welfare of women. And unfortunately, by a senior minister in an administration led by a woman and in a chamber in which women account for 29 per cent of the members.

Initial refusal

Mr Nicholson, wrongly, resisted the initial invitation to withdraw the remark, having been rounded on by opposition members, giving the impression of being personally insensitive to the difficulties faced by women and potentially damaging the administration's declaration of its mission of fostering women's rights and broader gender equality. That would hardly have been his intent.

In the end, Mr Nicholson did withdraw the remark. He should, having had time to reflect on the matter, do more.

He should now, and on his feet, in his own voice, at the next sitting of the Senate, offer a full apology to all Jamaicans, especially to its women, for the inappropriateness of the remark and for the offence it caused. Last Saturday's tepid apology released by a press aide smacked of arrogance and lacked sincerity.

CARICOM mechanism worked

Last week, Industry Minister Anthony Hylton reported that five lubricant companies from Trinidad and Tobago - of the nine into which Jamaica opened investigations two years ago - were found to have breached the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) rules of origin, which meant that their importers have to pay tariffs that would otherwise be exempt under the Community's single-market arrangement. That is good.

The decision demonstrated that though, as Mr Hylton had complained the process was slow, CARICOM has mechanisms to resolve disputes, if they are used, rather than merely resorting to gripe, as is too often the case in Jamaica. We agree with Mr Hylton that Jamaica should push for changes to enhance these mechanisms, perhaps as part of a broader discussion of other reforms contemplated by Jamaica.

On the issue of the lubricants, though, the statement by Mr Hylton was rather too vague. He should publish the full report.

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