Thu | Jun 24, 2021

EDITORIAL - Mr Atkinson and a sense of déjà vu

Published:Friday | June 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

It is a requirement of the job, it seems, that Jamaican parliamentarians flutter around the periphery rather than get to the substance of issues - an example of which is their current flapping over the opinion, of undetermined provenance, from the Attorney General's Chambers about the constitutionality of proposed pension reform.

That opinion, sent to the finance ministry and forwarded to the parliamentary committee reviewing pension reforms, concluded that to change the existing system would not only be a breach of contract, but be unconstitutional.

Many people, including the attorney general, Patrick Atkinson, who claims not to have seen the opinion before its dispatch, disagree. Mr Atkinson promises to have a new opinion prepared.

In the meantime, members of the parliamentary committee are baying for action, ranging from seeking a judicial determination of the issue to - seemingly the more popular - lynching or, at least, tarring and feathering the lawyer who prepared the document.

CHAMBER CHAOS?

Most of them, however, miss the fundamental issue, which, in this context, is not about the legal interpretations proffered by whoever it was that prepared the opinion. The question ought to be about the internal workings of the AG's Chambers.

First, attorneys routinely differ on the interpretation of the law, including the Constitution. The courts and judges, at several tiers, are the arbiters of these disputes. In collegial chambers, including the AG's, we believe, such disputes are resolved at office conferences.

The seeming inclination to string up the writer of the opinion is, against the foregoing, just so much unthinking, knee-jerk nonsense. Moreover, perchance the opinion is correct, we do not presume that the Government would unilaterally overturn existing pension and employment arrangements. Rather, these would be the subject of negotiations between the administration and public-sector unions.

What MPs should be more concerned about are the administrative structures in the AG's Department and how these may have changed, if at all, since the beginning of Mr Atkinson's tenure in January. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable that an opinion carrying the imprimatur of the AG's Chambers could be released without the attorney general himself being privy to it, even if not fully briefed on its contents.

Haunted by lightbourne

There is a sense of déjà vu here - a Dorothy Lightbourne moment; of the ex-AG expostulating at the commission of enquiry over her mishandling of the Christopher Coke extradition affair. Of course, Mr Atkinson will remind us, with force we expect, that he is no Dorothy Lightbourne - in any respect.

But this was obviously no clandestine affair. Whoever prepared the document and/or caused it to be sent to the finance ministry would have known that it was intended to inform public policy and that it was likely colour the parliamentary deliberations on pension reform. That person must have, on the face of it, believed that he/she had the authority to transmit the report.

What is required from MPs is not harrumphing or Don Quixote-style galloping at their latest papier mché windmills. Rather, we expect a full and cogent report, without attempting to scapegoat anyone, on what went wrong and how the management systems within his department have fixed. Or, as he may put it, that the ghost of Dorothy Lightbourne has been exorcised.

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: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.