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EDITORIAL: Requiem to a commission

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM

In the event of appeals, it could be a long time, even years after the March 8 date that Justice Ingrid Mangatal set for a hearing of the matter by the full court, before there is a legal determination of the appropriateness of Mr Boyd Carey's chairmanship of the FINSAC commission of enquiry.

In the end, Mr Carey, himself a retired judge, may be 'vindicated'. Unfortunately, it won't matter. The damage to the credibility of the enquiry has already been done. Any findings by this panel now will be perused for perceived political nuances and viewed with suspicion across party lines.

The shame is that it need not have come to this; not if they had heeded the advice of this newspaper, freely offered in this column.

It is the rare adult Jamaican who does not know that the cause of, and the response by the Government of the day to, the 1990s financial sector meltdown is an emotional and politically divisive issue. The bailout of banks and insurance companies cost taxpayers $140 billion, and many people lost their assets and businesses.

Any public enquiry into events of nearly a decade and a half ago, such as the one over which Justice Carey was appointed to preside, would clearly require procedural clarity as well as deft and obviously even-handed management, as opposed to fairness or the absence of bias in the judicially applied sense. This approach, as we argued previously, was not being achieved by Justice Carey and his fellow commissioners.

Curious procedure

Last November 27, for instance, we commented on the curious procedure adopted by the commissioner of allowing even persons in the public gallery to throw questions at Dr Omar Davies, who was the finance minister during the crisis and considered by many as the author of the debacle. People who lost assets and felt undone by FINSAC, the agency that managed the bailout, were able to directly confront Dr Davies, and there were comments from the commissioners' bench about policies "to kill off people".

At the same time, we suggested that the commission "still has time to recalibrate and even do a useful job". The subsequent handling by the commission of the former financial secretary, Ms Shirley Tyndal, caused us to lose confidence in the commission to elicit the broad contextual information and to deliver the quality of report that would add value not only to debate of the FINSAC period, but to contribute seriously to policy formulation for the future. We were concerned about the appearance of a priori conclusions.

The environment of the enquiry had become too poisoned, which has only been added to, by what is to our mind, the lesser allegations and debate over whether Justice Carey or his family had debt, resolved or otherwise, with a collapsed bank.

Of course, we believe that Justice Carey, if he is convicted of his rightness, should cause this matter to be robustly pursued in the courts. At the same time, the authorities should use the convenience of this judicial stay to quietly disintegrate and, after a short but reasonable period, name a new commissioner with narrower terms of reference and clear procedures.

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