Fitz A. Jackson | Jamaica’s business is our responsibility
Your article dated February 21, 2021, and titled ‘Committees in hibernation – Inertia grips gov’t-chaired parliamentary panels despite shift promised by Holness’ did not reveal any surprises to anyone who have not been living under a rock over the past three years or so. Rather, the article only reaffirms the inherent disposition of the Holness-led administration to suppress through all available opportunity, any efforts to make the conduct of his administration transparent to the people of Jamaica. Since 2018, efforts were made to reverse the initiative of greater transparency, and, by extension, more accountability of government by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
It is regrettable that rather than seek to strengthen the effectiveness of the oversight committees because of failure to meet more frequently as claimed, the prime minister and his supporters in, and outside of Parliament, sought to make a retrograde step of locking control of the committees! The spurious excuse of the members quoted in your article lacks any sincerity. While the claim of “nothing has been referred to the committees by the full House” may be true, it is also true that the House, with majority of government members have not, and most likely will not refer any matter to a committee that may reveal any administrative failures, dishonesty or plain ‘thieving’ of public resources. There is absolutely nothing in the Standing Orders to support the claim that the oversight committees can ONLY consider matters referred to them from the full House.
On the contrary, Sections 73A, 73B and 73C of the Standing Orders clearly set out activities of the Internal and External Affairs, Economy and Production, Human Resources and Social Development, Infrastructure and Physical Development, Integrity Commission Oversight committees, WITHOUT any references made from the full House. In addition, the full House of at least 16 members MAY refer matters to a committee for further consideration and report back to the full House.
It is of note that the Government never made available to the Parliamentary Opposition nor the public any legal interpretation of the Standing Orders on this matter before jumping at Bolt-like speed to use its majority to take control of the chairmanship of those oversight committees. Then again, this is in keeping with that common practice of ‘tek all a we fi fool’.
In this regard, I am inviting some of our acclaimed legal minds to lend their intellect and experience in assisting to protect some of the real essence of our democratic processes, and the future of Jamaica that we all claim ownership of. Indeed, ownership does carry some responsibilities, and not just benefits. Some may have lent their voices, but much more is required until the desired goals are achieved.
The power arrogance and affront to any attempt to question actions of the Government is demonstrated in the reluctance to act against Cabinet members who, in recent past, have been found wanting after investigations by sate agencies, as in the cases of Petrojam, NESol, Universal Access Fund, and the Caribbean Maritime University. On the contrary, those found wanting were later rewarded with promotions or greater portfolio responsibilities. It would not be unreasonable for anyone to expect those now before the courts will be further rewarded after those matters are settled there. We must remain mindful of that adage that says, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Such power drunkenness not only make victims of those drinking, but all others around and with whom they encounter.
Where is the sustained public outcry against these governance atrocities of our people, particularly by those of us of conscience? We are reminded of the popular quote that says: ‘The only thing that allows evil to prosper is when good men (and women) do nothing’. We are going through a prolong period of high crime levels that is only getting worse each day, to the point that too many Jamaicans, for partisan or other reasons of convenience, have become numb to murders. The same can now be said of the failing management of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the positivity rate is among the highest in world and the infection levels have increased exponentially. However, eloquent explanations abound for all these confirmed failures.
The country’s business is the responsibility of us all. Let us do all we can. Hold those accountable who are to be held accountable fearlessly, regardless of what office one holds. If not, we will all be guilty by our own omissions, as the Bible reminds us.
Fitz A. Jackson is the member of parliament for St Catherine South.