WHY VILIFY VELMA?

I abhor and condemn the callous, unnecessary crucifixion of a distinguished Jamaican and international public servant, Velma Hylton, which seems to be media’s current fad. 

This unworthy opprobrium appears to have been kick-started by Desmond McKenzie whose rancourous remarks were first reported on Nationwide 90FM, a radio station that always appears most accommodating of former Mayor McKenzie’s ramblings however irrelevant or mischievous they may be.  Since then, Nationwide gives the impression that McKenzie’s vitriol against Miss Hylton has formed the terms of reference of its own Commission of Enquiry into her conduct.  After the constant bombardment, it looks like Velma Hylton’s appointment alone would signal the end of any hope of a credible finding from this Commission.

Nonsense.  Opinions expressed or submissions made as Advocate in a particular context ought not to disqualify anyone from acting as an independent Commissioner in another.  Any innuendo to the contrary is, in my opinion, unfair and groundless.  It may also be rooted in ignorance.  Everybody, especially those who framed the Terms of Reference and who are calling for “accountability” look to be proceeding on a common misunderstanding of what a Commission of Enquiry can achieve. 

Commissions of Enquiry have parameters limited by Section 2 of The Commissions of Enquiry Act which allows them to:

“…enquire into the conduct or management of any department of the public            service, or of any public or  local institution, or the conduct of any public or local officers of this Island, or of any parish, or district thereof, or into any matter in which an enquiry would in the opinion of the Governor-General, be for the public welfare.

So, a Commission of Enquiry may enquire into:

1.    The “management” or “conduct” of any public service department or public institution.  These are internal enquiries and only peripherally include any interaction with third parties and even then only insofar as that interaction can cast light on how the affairs of the department have been managed or conducted.

2.    The “conduct’ of public or local officers which only serves to include in any enquiry into management or conduct of any institution, an enquiry into the conduct of the persons involved.  This is expressed out of an abundance of caution to prevent some bright spark lawyer submitting the incongruity that enquiries can be made into the management of the institution but not the conduct of the persons managing it.

The words “or into any matter in which an enquiry would in the opinion of the Governor-General, be for the public welfare” are not to be taken literally.  If they were, the Governor General could order an Enquiry into the business dealing of Energy World International or the election campaign of the PNP or JLP.  Those words are construed “ejusdem generis” which means that they are limited to being construed as referring to a category of enquiry already specifically mentioned. 

I have repeatedly advised, publicly and privately, that nobody can be “held accountable” by the findings of an Enquiry.  That’s for the police and courts.  All a Commission of Enquiry can lawfully do is to look at the actions of the security forces and/or whatever Ministries or other government departments involved and find out if they were properly managed.  If changes are required in management systems or in the way that existing systems are implemented operationally, the Commission will make recommendations in that regard.

No Commission of Enquiry can find anyone “guilty” of any offence and if it attempts to do so, it’ll be acting ultra vires, usurping the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and vulnerable to legal action.  Persons waiting for a pronouncement that, for example, 50 of the 73 dead were murdered ought to be disappointed.  Accordingly, my own critique of the constitution of this Commission is far more fundamental than the childish vilification of individuals.  I can’t understand why all the Commissioners are lawyers and why the Chairman is not a Jamaican with at least a passing acquaintance of the “runnings” here.  We’re begging for a voluminous, academic report full of sound and fury but signifying zip-a-dee-doo-da.

Are we saying not one single independent Jamaican can be found? If I were Prime Minister (God help Jamaica) my Commission would be headed by a retired Court of Appeal Judge and include a clergyman and a former security officer.  My Commission, for what it’s worth, would be chaired by retired Court of Appeal President Paul Harrison.  It would also include Pastor David Henry of Swallowfield Chapel and Mark Shields.

Peace and Love

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