The world is witnessing what many thought would not have happened in the United States of America, namely the arrest and arraignment of a former president. Probably the only reason this did not happen to a sitting president is based on the Department of Justice guideline that a sitting president should not be subject to criminal prosecution.
This development in the United States is only unprecedented with respect to the presidency for dozens of other elected officials have been arrested, charged, and imprisoned. This phenomenon of criminally charging a former leader of a country is also not unknown in other countries. So, in a sense, American democracy can be said to be maturing, in that it has shown a belief in the principle that “no one is above the law”.
Trump’s history – A very brief commentary
Trump’s presidency was marked (and marred) by his undermining of democratic norms, abuse of power and public office, violations of the pledges of the office, an unprecedented level of lying, and the virtual subsummation of the office into the self. He often said that the constitution gave him to power to do whatever he wanted. During his presidency, as well as his pre and post period presidency, he demonstrated a capacity to demonize and attempt to belittle others while at the same time playing the victim. He has destroyed the careers of many public servants who were simply doing their jobs, and yet has had the audacity to claim that he is the defender of justice, and unsurprisingly but nonetheless amazingly has promised to pardon the January 6, 2021, insurrectionists – if he ever became president again.
It has been plausibly argued that the “Trump” phenomenon is a product of years of America’s right promotion of an anti-government agenda and a preference for self-serving anarchy over order. Trump, it is argued, was an embodiment of this undoing of America’s search for a more equal society and in doing what many others wanted to have seen done, he also sought to serve his personal agenda.
Lessons for Jamaica (and other countries)
While Trump is perhaps in a class by himself in terms of the degree of his crassness, coarseness, vileness, and vanity, his disregard for norms, order, law, and his efforts at overturning good governance practices have been, and are being, attempted by leaders in other countries. In addition to globally known contemporaries of Trump such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus (to name just a few), there are other less globally known governments and leaders who display tendencies like those of these disorder-creating, democracy-undermining, dictators.
In my assessment, Jamaica faces threats that are similar in character to that which America has been living, particularly since Trump entered the presidential race in 2015. The apparently orchestrated attacks on the Integrity Commission by members of the Holness administration, reflect the kind of path America travelled under Trump to the place where it now is, with the arrest and arraignment of the ex-president.
The JLP’s history of undermining of public institutions
Since 2007, an apparently influential member of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) 2007 – 2011, and 2016 to present, has been abusive towards members of the media and ordinary citizens. This person is Everald Warmington, Member of Parliament for the constituency of Southwest St. Catherine and currently Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, overseeing the public works function. Since 2016, he has directed his tirades to fellow members of parliament, civil servants, and political aspirants, and most recently towards the government’s anti-corruption agency, the Integrity Commission, whose operations were previously executed under the Office of the Contractor General.
I discussed aspects of Warmington’s deplorable conduct in an article entitled Is Prime Minister Holness Compromised? Which was published on May 5, 2023 at http://leadershipreimagination.com/uncategorized/is-prime-minister-holness-compromised/ The point I wish to highlight here is the threat to the good of democracy that his conduct poses. By abusing members of the media and civil servants, particularly, he could be successful in his ostensible objective of deterring them from doing their jobs.
Warmington’s recent attacks on the Integrity Commission, however, appear to be an orchestrated attempt by the government overall. At least five other senior members of the government have made damning and dangerous comments about the Integrity Commission. They are President of the Senate, Tom Tavares-Finson; Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck; Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Marlene Malahoo-Forte; Minister Nesta Morgan (de facto Minister of Information), and Member of Parliament for Western St. Thomas, James Robertson. Thus, in total six senior members of the governing JLP, four of whom are members of the executive have pursued a sustained attack on the anti-corruption body.
We must ask the question, “Why?”
Holness’s uncertified integrity declarations and referral for corruption prosecution
There are probably two unrelated reasons for the Holness administration’s open hostility towards the Integrity Commission which influential sections of the society (such as the powerful lobby group, the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica) have watched in silence.
The first probable reason is that for some eight months (October 2022 to June 2023) the public has been made aware that the 2021 financial statements of the Prime Minister (called integrity filings) remain uncertified by the Integrity Commission. It is a legal requirement that these statements, which are due by March 31 covering the period January to December for the previous year, be certified by the Integrity Commission. The country was told in October 2021 of the non-certification of the Prime Minister’s 2021 filings.
In a press conference in May 2023, the Prime Minister when asked about the non-certification of his financials said he was not aware of the reason. This claim of ignorance by the Prime Minister is highly suspect as the Integrity Commission would have written to the Prime Minister stating specifics that they require to complete certification.
The second likely reason for the Holness administration’s attacks on the Integrity Commission, may be the fact that in February 2023, the Integrity Commission released a report from the Director of Corruption Investigations which found that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while Minister of Education (2007 – 2009) had acted corruptly. A day after the release of that damning report, the Integrity Commission released a report from the Director of Corruption Prosecution, Keisha Prince-Kameka, in which the Director made a ruling not to prosecute Holness. It was not that the Director of Corruption Prosecution made a finding that the facts asserted in the report of the Director of Corruption Investigations were unfounded, rather her ruling was that much time had elapsed and to prosecute after fourteen years could be seen as prosecutorial abuse. It is to be noted that the Director of Corruption Prosecution did not find that the alleged acts were not committed, but ruled that due to the lapse of time, she would not pursue prosecution. According to an article by the Jamaica Observer dated February 16, 2023, “Prince-Kameka ruled that although evidence has been identified sufficient to mount charges for the noted offences, the prosecution would be hard-pressed to resist an abuse of process application with regard to undue delay”.
The fact that the report of the Director of Corruption Investigations was not tabled simultaneously with the report of the Director of Corruption Prosecution was used as the basis for an all-out attack on the Integrity Commission, and well as, expectedly, attempts / designs to amend the law under which the Commission operates, with the ultimate objective of weakening the Commission.
Getting behind the facts
There remains two vital pieces of information the country needs to know about how the Integrity Commission has handled matters related to the Prime Minister. Firstly, is the fact that the damning report of the Director of Corruption Investigations was completed in October 2022, the same month the public was made aware that Holness’s 2021 integrity declarations, which were filed by the March 31, 2022, due date, had not been certified.
The question must be asked, why was not the report of the Director of Corruption Prosecution tabled then?
The second piece of information relates to the real reasons for the non-certification of Holness’s integrity declaration. I submit that the ideals of transparency require that given that the Integrity Commission is legally barred from giving the reasons, the Prime Minister should.
Professor Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of two award-winning books and articles, among his collection of eight books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website.