Jamaica’s governance framework is beset by several weaknesses. These weaknesses pose a great danger to the ideals of democracy as well as undermine the principles and practices of accountability. These weaknesses include ineffective legislative frameworks for investigative state agencies and conflicted persons being appointed to sensitive offices. For example, the Integrity Commission Act prohibits the country’s chief anti-corruption entity, the Integrity Commission, from naming public officials who are under investigation. In relation to conflicted persons being appointed to sensitive offices; the current police commissioner was an advisor to the Prime Minister. Given that advisors are allies, what is the probability that the commissioner would permit a fair and transparent investigation into the actions of the Prime Minister, should the need arise?
With Jamaica’s governance framework characterized by the weaknesses mentioned above, we have seen where the Prime Minister has operated within these weak frameworks to refuse to hold his ministers and connected people accountable, when they violate ethical and legal rules. The most recent is the Prime Minister’s pledge to find a new role for the resigned Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries who, along with other senior public servants, had violated the provisions of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) by holding a birthday party on a “No Movement” day. Many ask the question: why is Prime Minister Holness so soft on corruption and what explains the scale of corruption in his administration? Some persons have suggested that it is because the Prime Minister is compromised.
I have long been arguing that the conduct of Prime Minister Holness renders him unfit to remain Prime Minister. In my assessment, his conduct fails to meet “fit and proper” criteria for being Prime Minister. Given this reality, his continuing in office poses a danger to good governance in Jamaica. Good governance is critical to prosperity, where prosperity is understood as overall wellbeing not just financial wellbeing.
The concept “Fit and Proper”
The concept “fit and proper” refers to the extent to which someone seeking to hold a job or enter a profession has disqualifying characteristics such as:
- a history of conduct which when objectively weighed suggests that the person poses significant harm to the public;
- having been engaged in conduct that is considered disgraceful by practitioners of good repute and competency;
- having committed acts that are willfully reckless.
Those who would disagree with my assessment that relative to those criteria, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has failed the fit and proper test, I invite you to weigh the evidence with me. No one can say that the things I will show as occurring have not occurred, unless they are choosing to deny the facts, and no one can reasonably say the issues are inconsequential.
I have found at least seven (7) grounds on which Prime Minister Andrew Holness is unfit to continue holding that office:
- Placing citizens’ lives at risk. The first duty of a Prime Minister is the protection of its citizens’ well-being. The Prime Minister’s failures in this regard run the gamut from failing to provide a safe and secure environment for citizens (seen in the ever-increasing levels of crime, especially murders), to direct exposure of citizens to danger. While failure to control crime would not be grounds of disqualification to hold office, deliberately exposing citizens to danger is.
How has the Prime Minister exposed citizens to danger? In 2020, amid the pandemic when the country was seeing its first surge in the number of infections and deaths, the Prime Minister called an election. In addition, he held marches and crowded events contrary to his promises not to do so. He started in Water Square, Falmouth, and later, even after making a public announcement that crowded events were banned, the Prime Minister had large events in Sav-la-mar, Westmoreland and Portmore, St. Catherine.
In June of 2021, his government granted permits for the mass event mochofest to be held, in violation of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) and later, in the face of the third wave of the pandemic, which has seen an exponential increase in deaths and infections, the Prime Minister re-opened in country, bowing to special interests.
2. Admitted being under the control of special interests. Citizens have a right to expect that when government makes decisions it does so in the best interest of all, or a majority of citizens. The Prime Minister by conceding that in re-opening the country as he did in the face of the third wave he was responding to special interests, has confessed that he is under the control of persons whose objective is their business interests. A Prime Minister ought to be a champion of the rights of the people. Prime Minister Holness has confessed that he is a vessel of special interests.
3. Failure to observe laws. The Prime Minister, as head of government, is the chief proponent of laws. The executive (the Cabinet) which the Prime Minister heads, drafts proposed laws (Bills) which are then passed by the legislature (Parliament). One of the most sacred principles of law in a democracy is that “no one is above the law”. In furtherance of this, it is expected that those who make laws, of whom the Prime Minister is chief, will set an example in obeying the law to the letter.
The Integrity Commission Act prescribes deadlines by which public officials including parliamentarians must file annual declarations, and failure to meet those deadlines carry penalties. Prime Minister Holness failed in 2017 to file his declarations on time. Other public servants have been slapped with fines and threats of imprisonment for the same offence. He knows fully well that the authorities will not prosecute him and is as a result appears to be taking advantage of the weaknesses in our governance systems. Others do the same.
4. Failure to pay property taxes. The country is indebted to the investigative work of Zahra Burton from 18 Degrees North, for uncovering the fact that in 2016, Prime Minister Holness, then Leader of the Opposition had several properties for which property tax was outstanding. How could an aspirant for the job of Prime Minister been flouting the country’s tax laws, and refusing to make his reasonable contributions to the sources from which basic services are to be provided? Is that acceptable?
5. Use of tax havens. The Prime Minister’s major investments in Jamaica are held by a company which is registered in St. Lucia where he benefits from tax laws which are quite different and more accommodating than the country he runs. So, while the Prime Minister passes laws to demand that citizens pay taxes, which taxes are used to provide services such as national security, garbage collection, paying salaries to public sector workers, he has taken the conscious decision to avoid paying taxes here.
6. Lying to, or misleading the Parliament and People
On various occasions, Prime Minister Holness has lied to, or misled parliament and the people. It will be recalled that in the Petrojam scandal, the Prime Minister gave three separate figures concerning the exit package of the former HR Manager. The Prime Minister knew or ought to have known that he was tendering false information. More recently, in his many acts of mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PM falsely claimed that in response to the spike Government had increased the number of hospital beds. But as the Gleaner reported, the Minister of Health had announced the same number of beds quoted by the PM from as far back as March.
As I pointed out in February 2019, the act of lying to, or misleading, parliament is a ground for removal from office in well-run democracies.
7. Belligerent Breach of the constitution: In 2013, while serving as the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Holness issues pre-signed letters of resignation to members of the Senate and proceeded to use them to remove two members, Arthur Williams, and Christopher Tufton, whom he felt did not support him in his contest with Audley Shaw for leadership of the JLP.
The Supreme Court ruled that the act of issuing those letters was unconstitutional. Mr. Holness challenged the ruling at the level of the Court of Appeal and lost. Several senior members of the JLP, including now Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck and Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said that Mr. Holness was unfit to lead the JLP and serve as Prime Minister. Mr. Chuck’s statement read something like this:
Examination of the PM’s conduct using Fit and Proper Considerations
The first Fit and Proper consideration mentioned above is “conduct which poses significant public harm”. The 1st and 2nd findings (placing citizens’ lives at risk and selling out to special interests) fall under that category. The first also falls under the category of “having committed acts that are willfully reckless”.
Observing laws is the duty of every citizen and it therefore constitutes acts of ill-repute when laws, particularly those not contested, are broken. A head of an organization who breaks the laws of the country or rules of the organization sets a bad example and acquires a reputation of ill-repute. This is even more true of a Prime Minister. Findings 3, 4, 6, and 7 fall into the category of unreputable conduct, and while finding 5 is not illegal, the question which arises is: what if all of us did that, how would it help or hurt Jamaica? There would be unquestioned harm to revenues and the country’s ability to provide basic services to citizens, and this then takes us back to the question of placing citizens’ lives at risk.
I ask you, is it okay for a Prime Minister to place citizens’ lives at risk, sell out to special interests, violate the constitution, refuse to obey laws, lie, avoid paying taxes and still be considered fit to lead?
What if we were all to follow his example, what would happen to the country?