Hylton walks: Attorney withdraws from Tivoli commission amid heat over appointment
Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
Weeks of wrangling over the appointment of Velma Hylton to the commission of enquiry into the May 2010 police-military operation in Tivoli Gardens have ended with the attorney-at-law recusing herself.
But Attorney General Patrick Atkinson says she was hammered into doing so, and Desmond McKenzie, the member of parliament for Western Kingston, stormed back, saying the Government was a coward for naming her to the commission in the first place.
Yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said Hylton had written to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen requesting to be excluded from the commission.
Hylton indicated that the enquiry into the 2010 operation that claimed the lives of more than 70 persons should not be stalled by politics and irrelevant distractions, and as a result, she made the decision to step aside.
Noting that the Government continued to reject the "unwarranted attacks on Ms Hylton", the OPM said the governor general had accepted her wish to be excluded from the panel.
The Opposition and some sections of civil society had questioned Hylton's appointment to the commission because of statements she made during the 2002 West Kingston commission of enquiry.
During the enquiry, Hylton reportedly said she did not comprehend why the security officers could not shoot women and children if they were being used as human shields.
McKenzie, an opposition member of parliament who was one of the leading voices against Hylton's appointment, said the stand-off should not have been allowed to reach this far, but the governing People's National Party did not have the will to do the right thing.
"I applaud her for the position she has taken, but it also speaks to the fact that the Government is a coward because the Government should have acted. The Government should not have waited on her to take that decision," McKenzie said.
McKenzie said Hylton should not have been included the three-member panel as her comments were prejudicial and would have tainted the proceedings.
However, Atkinson expressed disappointment that the Opposition "hammered" Hylton into making the decision to not accept the appointment.
"Personally speaking, I am disappointed, because I still think that the objections to her were unfounded, and I find it unfortunate that you can hammer a good person's reputation to the extent that they feel to step down rather than doing some service to their country," he told The Gleaner.
Earlier this month, Atkinson said the Opposition had been given a chance to comment on the proposed commissioners and failed to do so. At the time, the attorney general said the Opposition, which held the reins of Government during the 2010 operation, was trying to sabotage the enquiry.
The Opposition, however, posited that it had not been given enough time to comment on the proposed commissioners.
Yesterday, Atkinson said despite Hylton's decision, the commission would be going ahead as planned and the Cabinet would be deciding on a replacement in short order.
However, McKenzie is adamant that the Opposition will not be accepting "anybody to the commission that will sing the tune of the Government".
He said there was no intention on the part of the Opposition to sabotage the commission, but the intent of the Government was clear with the appointment of Hylton.
"This whole commission, as far as we are concerned, is not to benefit the people of West Kingston or Tivoli Gardens. It is more something to gain political leverage for the Government," he added.
McKenzie said it would be up to the Cabinet to decide whether it would need the Opposition's input in selecting a replacement for Hylton.