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EDITORIAL - PM should explain Maj Reese's transfer

Published:Tuesday | March 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM

It is widely felt that the removal of Major Richard Reese as the permanent secretary at the national security ministry is linked to Justice Paul Harrison's scathing criticisms of public officials for their failings at Armadale, the detention facility for girls. That facility was the responsibility of Major Reese's old ministry.

It is also the public's view that Major Reese, having been named to be the director general in the local government division at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), has, effectively, been demoted.

Neither perception, we feel, is, in the circumstance, unreasonable. We are adamant, however, that such matters ought not to be left to public speculation lest they lead to confusion over questions of accountability in the public service and further weaken confidence in the civil service.

This linking of Major Reese's seeming demise to the report on the Armadale fire, in which seven girls died, is quite understandable. For while Justice Harrison largely reserved his stinging criticism for officials like June Spence-Jarrett, the head of the Department of Correctional Services, Major Reese could not reasonably have escaped a vicarious daub.

Of course, the immediate responsibility for the island's prisons and juvenile correctional facilities rests with Mrs Spence-Jarrett, who, several weeks after Justice Harrison delivered his report to national security minister, Dwight Nelson, remains on the job. But in the final analysis, Mrs Spence-Jarrett was accountable to Major Reese.

And Major Reese, many people will insist, should have known, and ought to have made it his business to know, about the conditions in which people in the care and control of the state, in this case children, were forced to live.

At Armadale, their situation was squalid; their treatment inhumane.

For Major Reese, this knowledge would not be expected to be academic but almost intimate.

Commissioner of corrections

Up to two years ago, when he was promoted to become permanent secretary, and was succeeded by Mrs Spence-Jarrett, the former Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) officer was, for several years, the commissioner of corrections. He was in charge of prisons and juvenile correctional facilities.

The obvious question, therefore, was how closely did he question officials like Mrs Spence-Jarrett about the reports they presented, assuming that such were made, on the agencies and facilities under their management? Was he a caring and effective manager?

On the face of it, some people will argue, Prime Minister Golding, given Major Reese's new post, has left the answer dangling. On the other hand, it could be, as some suggest, that Major Reese, as the top civil servant in the ministry, may have had to pay the price for the leak of the Armadale report.

Or, perhaps there are other reasons, unrelated to Armadale, for the movement of Major Reese and a handful of top civil servants. Prime Minister Golding is not obliged to provide any reasons for decisions to reassign permanent secretaries.

In this case, though, we believe that it would make sense for the PM to explain his decisions. It's about transparency on governance and the value of frankness.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.