Editorial | Clarity, transparency in Myrie issue
If, indeed, Lionel Myrie is not the subject of a criminal investigation, is under no threat of being charged for a crime or cited for an ethical breach – which the custos of the parish of Hanover, David Stair, suggests is the position – then Mr Myrie can quite appropriately be appointed as a justice of the peace (JP).
Otherwise, Delroy Chuck, the justice minister, got the principle quite wrong in arguing that someone accused of a crime or of an ethical indiscretion should not only be eligible for high office, but can properly be elevated thereto, then removed if the allegations are proven to be true. That, at the very least, is a messy way to do things.
Further, it does a disservice to the person who is under investigation, and to anyone who has a stake in a matter. Or, put another way, it is a bad approach to governance – act first and concern yourself with rectitude later.
Justices of the peace undertake important functions. They may preside at a petty session court; have limited powers to sign summons commanding people to court; and approve bail at police stations for certain minor offences. But more important for communities is the job they do certifying documents and verifying the identity of individuals.
It makes sense, therefore, that the Justice of the Peace Act requires that any person who the minister recommends to the governor general for appointment as a justice of the peace must of “unquestionable character … (and) commands the respect and confidence of an individual’s community”. The minister is helped in each parish in identifying such qualified people by an advisory committee chaired by the parish’s custos rotulorum, who, in the case of Hanover, is Dr Stair.
Earlier this month, 45 justices of the peace for Hanover took their oath of office. Myrie was among them.
However, an opposition political activist in the parish took to social media to protest Myrie’s appointment. He recalled that Mr Myrie’s name figured in the 2017-18 Petrojam scandal as the person with official and political connections who provided a letter to the state-owned oil refinery for a change to the beneficiary of a controversial J$9-million donation to an unregistered citizens’ association, in the then energy minister’s parliamentary constituency. Mr Myrie, at the time, said he was merely a courier. But a year ago, in the face of an outcry, the board of the Tourism Product Development Company rescinded its appointment of Mr Myrie to act as the agency’s CEO.
Mr Myrie, insofar as this newspaper is aware, has not been charged with any offence. Neither he has been on trial for any. Dr Stair told this newspaper that he was advised by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, as well as the Integrity Commission, that there is no investigation of Mr Myrie at this time. Mr Myrie gave Custos Stair similar assurances.
The implication of those statements are not entirely clear. But if they are correctly interpreted to mean that there were investigations that yielded nothing incriminating or illegal, or ethical or morally reprehensible in Mr Myrie’s conduct, those agencies have an obligation to publicly say so, thereby lifting any clouds that hang over him. Further, it is long past time when any such investigation should have concluded, reports filed, and status known.
Nothing in the foregoing, though, rescues the illogic of Mr Chuck’s position – except, tangentially, on the basis of justice delayed and therefore denied. But only within limits.
Mr Chuck, responding to the Myrie issue, said: “... If a person is under investigation, it may well turn out that the allegations are without merit, and until you get something concrete, and the person in fact is charged, I don’t think we should use the investigation to slander and malign a person …. It is a different matter if, subsequently, he is charged. Then his commission would be suspended. And if he is convicted, the likelihood is that it (the commission) will be removed.”
Two things weaken Mr Chuck’s approach. Neither relate to Mr Myrie specifically.
First, Jamaica faces a high deficit of trust. Over 70 per cent of Jamaicans believe that they live in a corrupt, or very corrupt, country. Very close to half the population lack trust in the institutions of the state. They believe most, or all the parliamentarians are corrupt. Fewer than four in 10 have confidence in the police.
These sentiments are reinforced when public officials seem oblivious or insensitive to them.
Second, it is patently illogical to forge ahead, in an absence of certitude, with the possibility of being forced into inglorious retreat if other facts become known. The approach is potentially messy and embarrassing, and smacks of arrogance.
It is not a too-exacting demand for transparency, as the minister seems to characterise this newspaper’s positions on most issues, when we urge caution. In this case, it is just a good approach to governance. But then, Minister Chuck may have information about the investigation to which the public is not privy.