Fri | Jun 21, 2024

Michael Abrahams | Is the Government fair?

Published:Tuesday | June 11, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Opposition Leader Mark Golding (centre) with Anthony Hylton (left) and Donna Scott-Mottley, members of the Constitutional Reform Committee, during a press conference at the office of the leader of the Opposition.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding (centre) with Anthony Hylton (left) and Donna Scott-Mottley, members of the Constitutional Reform Committee, during a press conference at the office of the leader of the Opposition.

In recent months, two scenarios have arisen in which one political party raised concerns over a situation in the other.

In March, during his Budget Debate presentation, Opposition Leader Mark Golding voiced concerns about the House Speaker being the prime minister’s spouse. Golding stated, “When the former Speaker was forced to resign as a result of an Integrity Commission investigation, the move to replace her with the wife of the prime minister, so that the head of Parliament is now the spouse of the head of Government, does not sit well with the tradition that the Speaker must act independently of the Government of the day.”

In May, when Golding revealed his dual citizenship status, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) expressed their concerns, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness claiming that to aspire to lead the country and have dual citizenship is “untenable” and “incurable”.

Examining and comparing the events that followed the concerns raised in the above-mentioned instances is interesting. When the issue of the Speaker of the House was raised, the Government’s reaction was immediate and harsh. The response, led by the prime minister, was for JLP parliamentarians to shout disapprovingly at Golding and walk out, leaving the Parliament without a quorum and thereby shutting down the proceedings. This was the first time in our history that the Government walked out of Parliament, and also the first time that the Opposition was denied the opportunity to complete a Budget presentation.

The JLP was also quick to announce that no rules were broken when appointing the Speaker. Indeed, Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams posted on her Instagram page, “The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives of Jamaica say that the only restriction on the position of the Speaker of the House is that the member cannot be a Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary.” The JLP also questioned the timing of Golding’s remarks, as his party has accepted the nomination of the Speaker last year and accused him of attacking her, while claiming his comments were gender-related and misogynistic.

VOICED CONCERNS

When the JLP voiced their concerns about Golding’s dual citizenship, the People’s National Party (PNP) responded by pointing out that the Constitution allows dual citizenship once the other country is a member of the Commonwealth. The JLP argued that although no rule was broken, it was a “moral” issue, and the concepts of divided loyalties and conflict of interest were brought to the fore. The JLP and their affiliated organisations went on to chastise Golding and called on him to renounce his citizenship and step down from the leadership of the PNP. Racially incendiary remarks on X, formerly Twitter, by JLP Member of Parliament (MP) Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, supported by fellow JLP MP Daryl Vaz, along with a campaign to label Golding a liar, were employed, in addition to Vaz publicly sharing details of Golding’s passport applications.

Perusing both situations objectively (the prime minister’s spouse being the House Speaker and the Opposition leader having dual citizenship), one will see similarities, with concerns being raised about conflict of interest, but also with the JLP unfairly applying different rules for each situation.

In each case, written rules were not broken, but concerns were raised on principle. The rules do not prevent the appointment of the Speaker if he or she is the spouse of the prime minister, or the Opposition leader from having Jamaican and British citizenship. Still, the opinions and concerns expressed in each case are valid.

The Speaker being the prime minister’s spouse presents a situation where a conflict of interest could arise, an example being a report that has the potential to embarrass the prime minister or implicate him in wrongdoing, landing on her desk. If she delays tabling it, she will be doing the people of Jamaica a disservice. On the other hand, if she tables it expeditiously, it could create tension in her marital relationship. The issue of the country’s leader, or someone aspiring to lead, having dual citizenship is also valid. It is not unreasonable to desire that a country’s leader have citizenship solely with that state, diminishing the perception of divided loyalty.

SHIFTING OF GOALPOSTS

However, the Government’s handling of these scenarios demonstrates a shifting of goalposts and an unlevel playing field. A pertinent observation is that the JLP could use the argument that no rule was broken in selecting the House Speaker, but the PNP was not allowed to utilise it in defending Mark Golding’s dual citizenship.

Also, in both cases, orchestrated attacks were launched at Golding, including false accusations, racially divisive and xenophobic narratives and doxing. Regarding Golding’s comments in Parliament, questioning his delayed reaction to the Speaker’s appointment is reasonable. However, he was accused of attacking the Speaker, when he did not. His remarks were devoid of vitriol, but instead, he expressed what he considered to be a violation of an honoured tradition. Golding was also accused of gender bias when his comment had nothing to do with gender but, rather, a principle.

As for the dual-citizenship issue, in addition to brushing aside the fact that Golding broke no rules and was not in breach of the Constitution, the JLP again went on the offensive, demanding renunciation of his citizenship and stepping down as leader of the Opposition. The colour of his skin and his heritage were also used against him. In doxing Golding by publicly revealing his private information, Vaz said that “nothing is secret”. However, the names of the six parliamentarians being investigated by the Integrity Commission for illicit enrichment and the reasons why the prime minister’s statutory declarations have not been certified for three years remain closely guarded secrets.

My conclusion is that the Government’s tactics are unfair. There cannot be one set of rules for them and another for their political opponent. One of the hallmarks of good governance is fairness, but the Holness administration appears to be uninterested in that, opting instead for political manoeuvring. This is a red flag we should all be concerned about.

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or follow him on X , formerly Twitter, @mikeyabrahams.