Golding defends Bunting’s role in gun licence approvals
People’s National Party (PNP) President Mark Golding has dismissed the notion of sanctions against Senator Peter Bunting for his role in the granting of gun licences to two persons with criminal traces, for which he was cited in a special report to Parliament.
Golding, who is also the opposition leader, pushed back at critics who have called for Bunting’s resignation from the Senate and as shadow spokesman on national security, arguing that there are clear differences between Bunting’s cases and those of Robert Montague, who quit the Holness Cabinet late Friday night.
He insists that the Integrity Commission (IC) special report, which was tabled in Parliament last Tuesday, made “no allegation that Mr Bunting, as the then minister, in any way misdirected himself”.
“He explained the facts of each case. One never resulted in a charge at all, and the other was a situation where the conviction was expunged. So that was a legitimate exercise of his discretion. So to be insinuating that there was any improper motive or corruption is just inconsistent with the facts, and I don’t think that it helps the nation for false equivalence to be drawn in different cases,” Golding said in a Gleaner interview on the sidelines of Saturday’s official funeral for the late Dr Paul Robertson at the University Chapel.
“This is not a case where the people were involved in lotto scamming and so on. These were two cases, one which never went anywhere to begin with and the other where the law of the land expunged the conviction, and so the basis upon which the licence could be refused no longer existed.”
Legislation gives the national security minister, who is in charge of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), the discretionary power to recommend permits whether entirely of his own volition or on the recommendation of a review board.
Bunting, who was national security minister from 2012 to 2016, was cited for granting a licence to a man whose United States records for drug trafficking were expunged. The other concerned another man who was never charged for that matter. An assault case against him was dismissed, and the judge made no orders in another.
Golding has also slammed rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice for calling for Bunting’s removal from the Senate, where he leads opposition business. Golding said that his reading of the matter was that it was closed.
“There are no further investigations. The matter has been investigated, and the facts showed that he exercised his discretion as a minister was authorised to do, and there is no improper motive. There is no corruption, and I think that there is a complete false equivalence being draw between his position and Minister Montague.”
The report said that Montague, who was national security minister from 2016 to 2018, overturned applications that had either been denied or permits revoked for six persons whose criminal past ranged from lottery scamming, to drug trafficking, to illegal gun possession.
The probe started out under the Office of the Contractor General in 2016, but that body has now been subsumed under the IC.
Golding has called for an overhaul of the FLA, which has been described as a cesspool of corruption by current and past board directors and administrators.
But the PNP president sought to cast aspersions on the Holness administration, suggesting that the nub of the crisis was of recent vintage – even though some cases dated back to the Simpson Miller administration.
The special report referenced more than 70 allegations concerning acts of impropriety, irregularity, and corruption in the issuance of firearm permits to persons of questionable character covering the period 2012 to 2018.
“I think it needs to be looked at because it has always been problematic. We’ve never had this problem before. It has emerged since this Government took office in 2016, and it is clear that a lot of things have gone wrong and the system needs to be cleaned up,” Golding said.
Golding also appeared to seek cover in the notion of redemption – a defence drawn by former deputy chairman of the FLA board, Dennis Meadows, who could face charges for misconduct in a public office, breach of public trust, and a breach of the Corruption Prevention Act. He is implicated in the issuance of a gun licence to his brother-in-law.
In a Gleaner interview published February 17, Meadows said he believed in giving second chances.
Golding appears to be following suit.
“I don’t believe that the mere fact that somebody had an issue in the past disqualifies them forever. That’s not the way how society works. That’s not the Christian way,” Golding said.
“People are capable of redemption and reform, and if they substantiate that they have turned their lives around, I don’t think they should, in perpetuity, be prejudiced by something that happened many years before.”