Wed | Oct 20, 2021

Orville Taylor | Evidence, transparency and trust – indispensable

Published:Sunday | May 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM

The only time that transparency isn’t desirable is when one dresses in public. True, it leaves little to the imagination but that is the difference between running a country and running one’s private life.

When one is in charge of resources which are publicly owned, such as a country, any public body, or publicly owned institution, one has to be open and consistent and be willing to stand up to external and internal scrutiny.

In the fight against crime and violence in this country, and indeed the region, there is no space for half-truths and innuendoes. Otherwise, there will be a pall of suspicion and deep mistrust. Ultimately, the very people who we expect to cooperate with us in achieving national or regional goals will either not support or gather against.

Right now, Jamaica is trying to get to the truth regarding the shooting death of a Spanish Town businessman and the implication of police officers. Alternate stories and accounts abound, but what we are sure about is that three persons are dead. One is allegedly the victim of bullets from suspected ‘rogue’ cops and two others, the drivers in separate cars of the same model and make, which crashed into each other, also passed.

Being the open democracy that we are, and not a military state, in order to attain the levels of cooperation with the law-enforcement agents and the justice system as a whole, we need to have the public’s trust. But the trust must be backed up by evidence and not anecdotes. Scientific/academic truth is the highest possible level of veracity which one can obtain on earth. Thus, for me, when researchers and scientists follow the scientific method and come up with conclusions, I side with them, even if other professions, or even John Public, disagree.

BELIEF AND FACTS

The father of Kevron Burrell, one of the deceased drivers, is understandably upset that his son died and, he believes, of gunshot wounds. After all, a policeman who is in custody, and who is implicated in the killings, did declare that Burrell and the other driver, also a suspect in the killing of the businessman, died from gunshot wounds. Burrell senior apparently shares the opinion of the suspect cop. However, belief and facts are not the same.

It is not clear why the senior Burrell was ejected from the autopsy on his son’s body, but speaking as an outsider, it would have engendered more trust, and certainly been more transparent, had he remained in the room to observe. Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that sometimes observers can be disruptive or simply not able to stand the trauma. In fact, many medical personnel still struggle to handle corpses.

Thus, I totally support the right of the gentleman to seek a second pathologist. Yet, given that both representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) were there, it is extremely unlikely that there would have been any collusion between these two entities, to skew the autopsy.

Suspicions apart, pathologists in Jamaica, especially the Jamaican ones, do not get enough credit for their work and abilities. The University of the West Indies (UWI) has a set of well-trained academics and professionals, who give first-class training and service in this field. A ranking of being in the top five per cent of universities in the world is no mean achievement. Still, from time to time, the medical personnel who are trained by this top-ranked institution are given scant credit or respect as prophets in their own countries; and sometimes ignored by juries.

One can recall a ‘pastor’ whose DNA-confirmed semen linked him to paedophilia, walking scot-free by a jury, and homicide cases where the panel of non-lawyers freed murder accused. Of course, the disregard of the forensics is more the exception than the rule.

Notwithstanding these aberrations, however, we have to accept that all this is part of a system of rules which we are bound to abide by. Therefore, as long as we have a system of juries for rape and homicide cases, we have to accept that ‘justice is done’ because no one has the right to dictate to a court what the verdict has to be.

What happens to the forensic evidence when it gets to court is no different from what obtains when an expert advises a government, a politician presents evidence that supports his venture or when one is alleging corruption or malfeasance.

PUT UP OR SHUT UP

One might be surprised that I agree with Minister Daryl Vaz, when he tells ‘Contractor General’ Dirk Harrison to “put up or shut up”. Let the evidence come forward and we deliberate.

Similarly, Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister, Gaston Browne, has accused a number of unnamed governments across the region of thwarting an attempt of the twin island nation to have a campus of the UWI there. According to him, “The technical committee of the university approved our university plan. Unfortunately, you have some politics that is taking root now with some of the campus countries – if I may call them that – expressing concerns. They have all kind of fears. They have all kind of innuendoes and subterfuge they now bring to the fore.” Browne must put up or shut up.

The UWI’s bigger heads are on record as supporting the idea of a campus in Antigua but as far as I know, the UWI operates according to ordinances, rules and procedures, and as long as it is above board, the respective governance structure would approve.

He should call the names if he is being truthful but ‘wud throwing’ is beneath the dignity of a prime minister. After all, being the flagship Anglophone institution where truth is generated, even the appearance of such misconduct is dangerous.

This is a region where the perception of corruption is high. We have to be able to make the public trust those who are in charge of us.

Anything less is fire at the mouse’s hindquarters.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.