Current Affairs

Current Affairs


Blythe wants Constitution amended
Wants clear definition of ministerial powers
Observer Reporter
Friday, October 03, 2003



BLYTHE... direct ministerial involvement is what the Jamaican public normally expects

DR Karl Blythe, who resigned as water and housing minister last April, at the height of a housing scandal in which he was accused of ministerial interference, has recommended that the Jamaican Constitution be amended to clearly define the levels of power that can be exercised by government ministers.

"Maybe we should amend our Constitution to clearly define what is meant by control," Blythe told the Lions Club of Kingston's weekly luncheon at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.

The newly re-elected vice-president of the People's National Party (PNP) made specific reference to section 93 of the Constitution, which, he said, lends itself to various interpretations.

"The Constitution says that general direction and control should be exercised by the minister over that department. I acted in the interest of time and in an attempt to remove bureaucracy which, as we all know, can tie us up. This sort of direct ministerial involvement is what the Jamaican public normally expects," explained Blythe.

He was speaking against the background of last year's government-commissioned probe on the National Housing Development Corporation's (NHDC) Operation Pride, a shelter programme started in 1995.

The Erwin Angus-led commission also included Noel Levy, Carlton DePass and Robert Martin. Its findings, called the Angus report, painted a picture of ministerial interference, cronyism, poor management and possible corruption in Operation Pride.

Blythe has steadily said that he did nothing wrong, a line he maintained on Wednesday. His resignation, he intimated, had not been an admission of guilt but an indication of his willingness to be held accountable, as well as to ensure that he could not be accused of impeding the investigation.

"Jamaica needs to develop a culture in which politicians are able to claim responsibility for undesired results without being seen as guilty players. We must insist that when our political leaders take responsibility, thus becoming accountable and are cleared of wrong-doings, we ensure that all clouds are removed from around their heads," he said. "This will send the right signal and then there will be more political leaders willing to offer their resignation -- in an acknowledgment not of guilt but that they are accountable. In this way, the future of Jamaica will be assured and the rights of every individual protected."

The media, he said, was to be blamed for the fact that his resignation had been interpreted as an admission of guilt.

"Because I distanced myself from the investigation, the media practitioners painted a picture of me as guilty and used their communication skills to convince members of the public of my guilt," he maintained. "Even when the prime minister (PJ Patterson) cleared my name, the media did not retract or re-do their stories and coverage."

Blythe was referring to the government-ordered Rattary review, which lambasted the original report, saying it was based on false premises, inadequate investigations, and had factual inadequacies.

"Hearsay has replaced facts, rumours accepted as truth and accountability is seen as other people's responsibility," Blythe said.

And even as the PNP vice-president encouraged the public to desist from gossip and instead place emphasis on accountability and the fight against corruption, he questioned Jamaica's readiness for the new type of 'responsible leadership' that he has recommended.