Editorial | Serial incompetence?
A democracy has checks and balances partly to guard against incompetence by a government and the ministers it appoints.
And the government’s success hugely depends on having a competent team whose portfolio fits their capabilities. How ministers perform their functions deserves our attention, particularly at this juncture when the Holness administration has an agenda to effect important constitutional changes. The roll-out of NIDS, a revised Bail Act, the operations of the SOE, and achieving republican status are some items which fall at the top of the Government’s agenda.
Critics have consistently questioned the Government’s ability to carry through this formidable legislative agenda when it is not able to accomplish basic functions, such as ensuring that Jamaica is safe, clean and healthy, and that children get a good education.
We are fairly often reminded of a long list of ministers who have made missteps, committed egregious errors, and those who have left a trail of incompetence at every turn. Few, though, have been shuffled out of office or reassigned, and even fewer have been prosecuted for criminal conduct.
Generally, there is no consequence for incompetence and bad faith. Not even weeks of media pounding is likely to end a politician’s career these days, for the media, once regarded as the social barometer, are now quickly dismissed as partisan.
In the real world, if one makes inept mistakes or fails to achieve targets or meet deadlines, that person is likely to be fired. In politics, one is re-elected. Politics, as we can see, operates with a whole different set of considerations, competence being low on the appraisal scale.
By all calculations, a national identification system by which every Jamaican is uniquely identified is desirable, but its first attempt in 2017 was rebuffed via a court challenge by the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP). The PNP argued that eight of the 25 rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Jamaican Constitution had been breached by the NIDS Act. The Constitutional Court agreed that the bill was flawed and threw it out. The Government was forced to return to the drawing board to fix the defects, and it took more than two years to accomplish this.
It is a fact that the Jamaican Constitution allows for temporary suspension of rights, but the court told us in a recent landmark decision that the suspension has to be reasonable and cannot infringe an individual’s rights. Roshaine Clarke, a St James taxi driver, was detained under the state of emergency (SOE) for eight months and the court awarded him $17 million in damages for breaches heaped on him.
A quick recap of the flawed bills emanating from the Attorney General’s Chambers in the last few years shows they have one thing in common. They all appear to test the outer limits of the Jamaican Constitution.
Mrs Marlene Malahoo Forte, QC, the former attorney general, now rebranded as minister of legal and constitutional affairs, made her position patently clear when she declared, “Fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to Jamaicans may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed”. She was laying the groundwork for her department’s strategy to stem the problem of crime and violence in 2016.
This Government has forfeited a great deal of goodwill by attempting to push through flawed laws which were found to infringe the fundamental rights of citizens. It has also expended a chunk of taxpayers’ money to defend these actions. There are fears that even more hefty awards are on the horizon. Sadly, none of these actions has been a deterrent to crime. The fact that there are no consequences to anyone in the Government is even more appalling.
The spotlight now shines brightly on Mrs Malahoo Forte as we await her next act.