Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Malahoo Forte defends absence of impeachment in reform proposals

Published:Wednesday | June 12, 2024 | 12:12 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte making her contribution to the Sectoral Debate during a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte making her contribution to the Sectoral Debate during a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) Executive Director Mickel Jackson has rejected the argument that owing to the possibility of political manipulation, the impeachment of parliamentarians was excluded from the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC).

In her contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives yesterday, Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte said that after lengthy deliberations, the committee proposed that there should be no inclusion of an impeachment process in the reformed Constitution.

The minister said impeachment is, “essentially, dealing with a legal matter through a political process” as most impeachable offences are criminal in nature and can be tried in the courts.

While acknowledging that views are divided on the issue, she said it was considered that the process could be easily manipulated for partisan political purposes. Further, she said that it is “difficult to have an impartial hearing by members of a parliament that are divided along partisan political lines”.

But Jackson contends that the absence of public consultation where a recommendation on “how you are going to be holding your public officials, including parliamentarians, to account is quite problematic”.

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY

However, Malahoo Forte said yesterday that the CRC took into consideration repeated concerns of the public about the lack of accountability among parliamentarians.

Malahoo Forte, who is co-chair of the CRC, said that in her report to Cabinet and Prime Minister Andrew Holness, she advised that “we will have to look at how we hold ourselves to account in a better way. We will have to look at the concerns of the people. Those concerns may not be addressed through an impeachment process or a recall process, but the people are demanding greater accountability from all of us”.

In a Gleaner interview yesterday, Jackson said she was disheartened that the impeachment process was shelved by the CRC.

“Having been denied public hearing on the deliberations of the CRC, we are not too sure of the fulsome thought process behind their decision,” she added.

Acknowledging that the impeachment process takes place in Parliament, Jackson noted that it does not have to focus primarily on criminal offences. She, however, argues that it could be pursued for morality, public interest, and ethical reasons, where a legislator may not be fit to continue serving in that capacity.

A poll conducted by Don Anderson-led Market Research Services Limited between August 30 and September 14, 2023, on behalf of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group, showed that 91.5 per cent of Jamaicans want impeachment legislation for charges to be brought against elected officials found guilty of unlawful activities. Just under five per cent (4.9) were not in support of such a move and 3.6 per cent were unsure.

Jackson indicated that the Local Government Act 2016, Section 18, which was passed by the bicameral legislature, grants the people of a municipality with a directly elected mayor the right to impeach the mayor for “gross misconduct” or “dereliction of duty”.

POLITICAL MANIPULATION

“The question I would ask is, ‘have we seen any indication that there has been any political manipulation with what already exists governing local government?”

National Integrity Action (NIA) Principal Director Danielle Archer argues that impeachment is a crucial part of good governance, which respects the rights of Jamaicans to have a continuous say in the quality of representation they receive.

She contends that whether impeachment provision is included in a new Constitution or simple legislation, an impeachment law supports good governance.

“NIA takes the opportunity to remind the Government that we have had many instances in which the actions of parliamentarians have been deemed morally untenable. There is no method whereby they can be impeached for actions that bring our parliament into disrepute”.

Archer recalled that Holness, at a political rally on February 7, 2016, in Montego Bay, St James, stated: “Within the first 100 days of our Government, we will start the legislative process to institute impeachment proceedings in Parliament. This will add another layer of protection of the Parliament to ensure that only members of unquestioned integrity sit in Parliament.”

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com