Current Affairs

Current Affairs



Gov't embraces commission findings
Patterson suggests Seaga evaded cross-examination
Observer Reporter
Wednesday, July 31, 2002

THE Government yesterday broadly embraced the report of the commission of inquiry into last year's violence in West Kingston, highlighting its vindication of the administration and security forces from Opposition claims that it was their action that led to the deaths of 27 people over a four-day period.

But in both a statement to Parliament and a ministry paper tabled in the House, Prime Minister P J Patterson also announced that the Government had accepted a slew of recommendations made by the commissioners, including its proposal that members of the constabulary be subject to new anti-corruption laws. The Government has accepted "in principle" the call for a civilian review board for the police.

Only a few categories of police officers were to have been subject to the Corruption Prevention Act under which public servants will be required to file annual assets and liability statements.

Patterson told Parliament yesterday: "The draft regulations to the Act provide that members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Island Special Constabulary be required to furnish annual statutory declarations. The Corruption Prevention Commission will be empowered to require declarations to be furnished by others at its own discretion."

The commission, headed by Grenada-born Canadian judge, Julius Isaac and including Jamaicans Hyacinthe Ellis and Garnett Brown, was established in the wake of the July 7-10, 2001 violence in areas near Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town in West Kingston. Two members of the security forces were among those who died in West Kingston and two others were killed in unrest elsewhere in the island.

The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which initially called for the inquiry but later called it biased, had claimed that the violence was instigated by the security forces and the ruling People's National Party to embarrass JLP leader Edward Seaga, the parliamentary representative for West Kingston.

In its report issued nearly a month ago, the commission rejected this argument, held that the police had been in search of guns and drugs, had come under gunfire from heavily-armed and strategically-managed civilians but had shown restraint to save lives.

Patterson highlighted these points in his statement and ministry paper.

"The commission found that the violence against the security forces which was perpetrated by these groups of armed civilians provoked their response, that is, by return gunfire -- but a response that was done with restraint in order to protect lives," said the prime minister's ministry paper. "The commission found no evidence of indiscriminate use of violence amounting to state terrorism."

In fact, Patterson stressed in his remarks, there was no evidence that all those killed died from police bullets.

Patterson also stressed the fact that JLP officials, including Seaga, refused to testify before the commission, because of their claim of bias, but Seaga's subsequent decision to send an affidavit after being told of negative evidence against him.

He suggested that Seaga might have been afraid of cross-examination, a claim that Seaga has, in the past, rejected.

Noted the ministry paper: "The leader of the Opposition did not avail himself of the opportunity to testify before the commission. There appears to be a measure of inconsistency in that refusal to appear and yet submitting and relying on an affidavit which would not be subjected to the scrutiny of cross-examination, which is essential for the discovery of the truth."

The commissioners had recommended stronger penalties for people who -- like Seaga and other JLP officials -- refuse to testify before commissions, with their cases being referred to the Supreme Court.

"In regard to these recommendations the Cabinet has directed that the director of legal reform prepare the necessary drafting instructions for legislative amendment," said Patterson.

The prime minister also underlined a range of projects being undertaken by the Government for inner-city renewal, education and job training as well as a programme for restorative justice -- all issues which the commission pointed to as needs in the report.

On the matter of restorative justice, Patterson said that the Government had given the greenlight to the legal reform office to develop on proposals put forward at the commission by Jamaican sociologist, Bernard Headley and Dalhouse University law professor, Jennifer Llewellyn.

The programme would be aimed at empowering communities "to take control of selective justice processes with a view to enhancing the self-esteem of the people who reside in the communities", Patterson noted.