Orville Taylor | Dal-wrinkled judgment
History beckons and is staring Prime Minister Andrew Holness, right in the middle of his face. He has two tasks; but if he fails at the first, the second is nugatory. Right now, he is on the crest of a perfect storm. His administration has played too many bad balls and the Opposition is very ready to catch them.
With high level of public distrust for politicians, dwindling approval ratings over the last year and the People’s National Party (PNP) seeming to break the chains, Holness’ trust curve is steep like an inner-city water bill.
First, the very extension of contract for the director of public prosecutions (DPP) was, by the Government’s own admission, mishandled. Not only did it do violence to a hard-earned reputation by the incumbent Paula Llewellyn, but it allowed for a significant minority of Jamaicans to believe that it was somehow connected to favours or instructions for or from the government. Remember, it is settled law that the DPP has absolute power to determine whether or not anyone, irrespective of the quality of evidence, should be prosecuted. She has ultimate discretion over the opinions of INDECOM, the auditor general, all branches of the constabulary, and of course the Integrity Commission (IC), whatever its recommendations be.
Someone from the cadre of non-aligned voters may make a connection. Indeed, to his credit, Holness has instructed his colleagues to desist from attacking or deriding the IC. However, by the time that was done, too many labourites had already tried to diminish its stature. Moreover, against what would have been my better advice, Llewellyn herself has chosen to speak on matters related to the commission or former member. Then of course, The commission has presented a troublesome report implicating six members of parliament, believed to be from the Government side, with a cloak of silence by the Government and a Speaker holding cards close to her chest.
DID NOT HELP
And just as the public associate recent acts of violence with utterances by others earlier, the shooting of one of the IC’s main protagonists certainly did not help either.
Jamaicans still don’t know who the six are. However, we now know that Speaker of the House of Representatives, Marissa Dalrymple Philibert – and if I misspell her name, I am in good company – has been recommended by the IC for prosecution for breaching the Corruption Prevention Act. Mark you, this is a recommendation and ultimately the DPP will decide whether or not the recommendation has enough robustness. Nonetheless, despite her cautiously stated press release, she has not been convicted of any crime.
Guilt of Dalrymple, or anyone else, is only adjudicated in the court of public opinion when the governing party is seeking re-election or if there are by-elections. From a strictly legal standpoint, she is not guilty of anything yet. Thus, must be allowed to pass through the well-established judicial process, that she being a very senior counsel she knows this like the back of her fist.
Holness is fighting to maintain the dwindling credibility of his party and he absolutely does not need anyone who is likely to cost him even one single vote, much less two per cent of the popular vote.
Madam Speaker has her finger not just on the mute button to silence unruly members, as should be her privilege, but most importantly, because she controls the heartbeat of Parliament, the highest source of our law; her actions when sitting in that chair must always be beyond scrutiny.
Over a cup of wine on Wednesday night after being dragged across the coals by my listeners on Hotline on Radio Jamaica 94 FM, I listened to Dalrymple Philibert attempting to show mastery over the debate but doing herself serious harm.
NOT TOUCH IT
Knowing that she had a starring role in the document from the IC, she should have simply treated it like biohazard and not touch it. Raising more questions than it answered, her initial press release ought to have at a minimum been preceded by a respectful address to her colleague parliamentarians.
Her post facto resignation, which seemed to have been so hurried that she missed the error her secretary made in spelling her name, came a little too late, because the damage had long been done.
Nothing in this column is a statement about whether Madam ‘muter’ is culpable. She is an attorney, and, any person who has even leaned on the shoulder of a lawyer or peeked for a few minutes in an introduction to law lecture, understands the sanctity of processes.
Some fundamental tenets, which are taught in the faculty of law, law school, and in industrial relations, include avoidance of any conflicts of interest. My plantation, the University of the West Indies, has one of the best exemplars of a mechanism for managing conflicts of interests.
Despite one major shortcoming, its Statement of Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct speaks to a) actual, b) potential or most importantly, c) perceived. For Dalrymple Philibert to even think that she had any justification for taking the Speaker’s seat, knowing fully well that the Sword of Damocles was over her head, was either naïve, arrogant or disrespectful. Whatever be the reason for her to have to be nudged by many and ultimately the council of churches, tells us, unfortunately, that her judgment is as sound as the holey underwear I wore as a child.
It is here that her resignation is appropriate. Not because of the charges, which she might very well beat; but because she made the absolutely wrong decision when she ought to have known better.
She might have very well cost her party a seat in the by-election.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.