Wed | Jul 28, 2021

Wright back in House

Opposition doesn’t want embattled MP seated with them

Published:Wednesday | June 9, 2021 | 12:13 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter
Mikael Phillips (centre), opposition member of parliament for Manchester North West, participates in a sitting  of the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Under-fire Westmoreland Central MP George Wright sat to the left of Phillips briefly on Tuesday, cut
Mikael Phillips (centre), opposition member of parliament for Manchester North West, participates in a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Under-fire Westmoreland Central MP George Wright sat to the left of Phillips briefly on Tuesday, cutting short his leave of absence in the wake of an assault scandal.
George Wright
George Wright

George Wright returned to the House of Representatives on Tuesday in a snub to critics as the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) bristled at the prospect of having the man accused of battering a woman with a stool sit on its side of the legislative chamber.

“It’s a sad day,” lamented Linnette Vassell, a gender consultant, in reaction to the news that Wright turned up at the afternoon sitting, cutting short his leave from the House which was due to expire in 13 days.

Vassell is among a coalition of more than 40 civic groups and individuals that have called on the first-time MP from Westmoreland Central to resign from Parliament.

“It is a big story about who we are and what we stand for. We can’t fall for this kind of behaviour. We can’t build the country, with all the problems that we have, on this kind of leadership. It is just wrong, wrong,” she said.

Wright has been ensnared in an assault scandal that erupted following the emergence of a video showing a man, believed to be the MP, battering a woman with a stool in Hanover on April 6.

He has not denied being in the video, which for Vassell is “the rub of the matter”, because “he can’t say it’s not him”.

Both Wright and his partner Tannisha Singh separately filed assault complaints against each other but the police dropped the probe after the two refused to cooperate.

Dr Lloyd Barnett, one of the country’s leading constitutional lawyers, says there is nothing anyone can do about Wright’s status in Parliament, as he’s not been accused of an offence that could lead to his eviction from Duke Street.

While Wright’s return, confirmed by Gordon House, surprised his colleagues, it came the day Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange made her Sectoral Debate contribution.

Because he left early, Wright would not have heard, in person, Grange opening her presentation with: “On too many occasions, I have had to come to this House to denounce horrific acts of violence against women and girls.”

Wright sat briefly beside Mikael Phillips, a senior opposition MP, who said he was greeted with a “hello”.

Phillips said he replied ditto.

Everald Warmington, a government minister, reportedly called out to Wright before he exited the chamber with Robert Montague, chairman of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who is also the transport and mining minister.

Warmington confirmed speaking with his former party colleague but refused to say what about.

Wright is now an independent MP having resigned from the JLP, but the party said the businessman has indicated that he still believed in the policies and programmes of the party and Andrew Holness-led Government.

Wright’s return - on seats beside the opposition lawmakers - seems set to trigger another round of problems as the PNP leadership insists it will not tolerate sitting with the embattled MP.

Anthony Hylton, the leader of opposition business in the House, said he had “no prior knowledge” Wright was going to attend the sitting.

“The Opposition is opposed to Wright sitting with the Opposition and has made clear our expectation that prior consultation will be had on this matter before Wright returns to the House,” he said.

But Gordon House said the seating arrangements have been set.

“Wright will sit in the Opposition benches,” the House said in a statement.

Contacted, House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert said she could not speak because she was in a post-sitting meeting.

House leader Edmund Bartlett said “an appropriate seat” has been found for Wright on the Opposition side, which had two vacant seats.

Professor Trevor Munroe, principal director of the National Integrity Action, said the situation highlights the continued lack of established standards to govern the conduct of members of the legislature, especially when such protocols exist for the judiciary and members of the executive – the other branches of Government.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and the Jamaica Council of Churches are among the powerful interests that want to see the businessman gone.

Businesswoman Shernett Johnson, one of Wright’s Westmoreland Central constituents, described the latest development as “Scene Two of the circus”, criticising the JLP for saving face and accusing the PNP of having no moral authority.

“If Mr Wright cares about us, he should step aside so that we can have some order, because as an independent, he will have to form a new team and open a different constituency office to support his work out of taxpayers’ money, while the constituency suffers.

“... We voted for the Jamaica Labour Party and Andrew Holness, but now we are independent,” Johnson told The Gleaner.

A taxi operator from Llandilo, also in Westmoreland Central, believes that although Wright will be loyal to the JLP, constituents will not benefit from his status as an independent.

“The law does not provide any way for us to remove him before the next general election, so we just have to wait to vote out the Jamaica Labour Party for disrespecting us,” Carl said.