Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Editorial | We haven’t forgotten George Wright

Published:Sunday | May 16, 2021 | 12:10 AM

Opposition motions usually grow cobwebs in Jamaica’s Parliament. That mustn’t be allowed to happen to the one on George Wright. In fact, the Speaker, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, must, at the next sitting of the House, announce when the matter will be brought to the floor for debate. It should be within days.

Further, Mrs Dalrymple-Philibert should also signal her wish to have the impeachment bill, resurrected by Opposition Leader Mark Golding, debated and urge the leader of the House to do what is necessary for it to be sent to a joint select committee for hearings.

Meanwhile, it is past time for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to report on the decision of “the requisite organs of the party” with respect to Mr Wight’s membership or any other sanctions against him. It is now a month since the JLP said that these organs would meet “promptly” to consider the matter.

George Wright is member of parliament for Central Westmoreland, elected on the JLP’s ticket in their September 2020 landslide although he is now in something of a contrived halfway house. Mr Wright is on voluntary leave from the House, but when he returns on June 21, he will not be formally under the Government’s whip. Ostensibly, he will sit as an independent – another twist in the contortion by the governing party in its avoidance of clear or decisive action.

The George Wright affair began with separate complaints, at different Westmoreland police stations on April 6, by Mr Wright and a woman said to be his partner. Each accused the other of assault. The police took the woman for medical treatment. Mr Wright, according to the police, was advised to do the same. Neither returned to the respective stations to give their formal statements and have since not cooperated with police investigations.

Within days of the reports, a viral video emerged of a man pummelling a woman with his fists and, at one point, a stool. It has been claimed that the beater is Mr Wright, who has not denied the accusation. But neither has he confirmed that it is him – a stance he apparently took during discussions with JLP officials and when after public appeals and the urging of his party, he eventually made himself available for an interview with the police.

TOUCHED NATIONAL NERVE

The video touched a national nerve. It came in the midst of renewed attention, sparked by a recent spate of killings, on violence against women in a country where, based on a 2016 survey, approximately three in 10 women say that they have been subject to physical or sexual violence, and approximately one in five characterised that violence as severe.

The governing party, including Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert, has been seemingly perplexed over how to handle the George Wright matter. When the Opposition attempted to bring a motion for his suspension from the House, and for the issue to be probed by the ethics committee, the effort was shut down by the Speaker. She ruled that the people in the video couldn’t be clearly identified. Further, the police had filed no charges against Mr Wright. Mrs Dalrymple-Philibert, the Speaker, however, wanted Jamaica to know that domestic violence “will not be tolerated by this Government or this Parliament”.

A week later, without anything legally having materially changed – except for the JLP’s announcement of Mr Wright’s removal/suspension from its parliamentary caucus and its recommendation that he “should be encouraged” to apply for leave from the House – Mrs Dalrymple-Philibert allowed the Opposition motion to be tabled. At the same time, the Speaker formally announced that she had granted Mr Wright three months’ leave of absence. The basis of Mr Wright’s application was “unforeseen circumstances and the fact that there are certain matters which I am required to attend to as a matter of urgency” .

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, speaking publicly on the matter for the first time, told the House of his “outrage” at the level of violence he saw in the video and conceded that the allegation that the perpetrator was an MP was a “disturbing dimension” that could impair the Government’s ability to pursue “our long-standing … anti-violence strategies and policies, particularly as it relates to gender-based violence”.

The PM, however, said that he was “bound by process and procedure” in how he responded to such allegations.

MORE THAN A MONTH

Regarding the JLP, it has had more than a month to investigate and to peruse its constitution and by-laws, and within context of Mr Wight, according to the party, “having acknowledged that allegations made against him were of a serious nature and were causing grave concerns for his role as a parliamentary representative and inconsistent with the principles, policies, and positions of the Government and party”. So, what in the circumstances are the JLP’s findings?

With respect to Parliament, whatever concerns about the process she may have harboured were clearly resolved to the satisfaction of Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert. She, after all, allowed the tabling of the Opposition’s motion. That, though, is not the end of matter. The natural follow-on to tabling is debate – and any constitutional action the House agrees on thereafter.

But the potential more consequential offshoot of the George Wright matter is Opposition Leader Golding’s retabling of the impeachment bill, initially proposed more than a decade ago by the former prime minister, and Mr Holness’ predecessor as leader of the JLP, Bruce Golding. It would enable the expulsion of legislators who were corrupt, abused their privileges, or engaged in behaviour so egregious that it made them unfit for public office. While essentially the text, in Mark Golding’s version, contains language that, on the face of it, covers actions such as was captured on the video.

The far-reaching matters in the impeachment proposals have been on Jamaica’s agenda for decades. They have broad public support. It is past time that they are subjected to deep and rigorous analysis and debate so that the country can agree on what should be law.