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EDITORIAL - Too clever by half, Mr Bunting

Published:Thursday | July 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Peter Bunting was too clever by half. So, he delivered a statement to Parliament on the Owen Ellington affair that was obfuscatory and disrespectful of people's intelligence, with the likely result being a deepened cynicism towards, and distrust for, Jamaica's law-enforcement agencies and weakened confidence in his own leadership of the national security ministry.

A fortnight ago, after four years on the job and with the possibility of serving for another decade at least, Mr Ellington, 51, dramatically announced his retirement as commissioner of police. According to Mr Bunting, he gave as his reasons the imminence of the commission of enquiry into the security forces' May 2010 operation in Tivoli Gardens, in which at least 76 people died; and the ongoing investigations into the alleged police death squad that operated in the parish of Clarendon, for which several officers are already facing charges for murder. On the latter matter, Mr Ellington claimed that he intended to remove any perception that he might compromise the investigations; with regard to the enquiry, at which he was likely to be a witness, he presumably did not want to become a distraction from the police getting on with their job.

WHY THE SECRECY?

No one, of course, believed that was the full story. And since Mr Ellington's departure, there has been speculation that he might have been leaned on to go by foreign funding partners, who were concerned with human-rights violations by Jamaica's security forces - or worse. Mr Bunting confirmed to the House that a report by the public defender 13 months ago suggested that at least 44 of the Tivoli deaths were extrajudicial killings by soldiers and/or police, and some partners have suspended support from "a few specific units". But from which and when we were not told.

Mr Bunting, in failing to provide clarity on any of the issues, found refuge behind words and phrases like national security, intelligence and not disclosing "the content of communication" with international partners "on matters of defence and security". A partner withdrawing financial or other support from any agency of the state, or their demand for the resignation or firing of specific individuals, ought not to be a secret. Disclosure is unlikely to compromise national security, or cause any harm. The consideration for privacy only weighs heavily if the action is directed against an individual in his private capacity as against his representation of the institution.

In any event, no one asked Mr Bunting for "item-by-item" expostulations on the matters at hand, or the flow of dialogue between Jamaica and its partners. Nor does anyone demand specifics from intelligence briefs. Rather, a mature public requests an intelligent rendering of the general principles and how they informed decisions so it can decide on what trust to repose in its government and its ministers.

Indeed, it is surprising that Mr Bunting, who found no fault in Mr Ellington and did not want him to go, nonetheless, "all things considered", did not attempt to dissuade him from retiring. It is equally surprising that on a matter of principle, Mr Bunting, who may have felt that he had to live with an "inherited" commissioner of police, was not uneasy when Stewart Saunders, the head of the army at the time of the Tivoli incursion, was appointed as the top civil servant in his ministry.

Correction: In yesterday's editorial, the body Youth Upliftment Through Employment was incorrectly named Youth Upliftment Through Education. The Gleaner regrets any inconvenience caused.

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