Government and Politics 2011 – Jamaica Year in Review 2011

In a year when a survey by Johnson Survey Research found that 60 percent of Jamaicans believed the nation would be in better shape today if it had remained under British rule, the resignation of Bruce Golding from his post as Prime Minister and the ascension of Andrew Holness, Minister of Education, to that position was the top story. And capping the story was the victory of the People’s National Party (PNP) over the ruling Jamaica Labor Party in December, ousting Holness who had been considered a “shoo-in” and replacing him with Portia Simpson Miller. 

In the run-up to the General Election, Jamaica’s government officials, political parties, and other representatives addressed a number of issues. The Organization of American States (OAS) sent an Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) to observe Jamaica’s General Parliamentary Elections held on December 29, 2011. The OAS was invited to participate by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica. Lisa Shoman of Belize was designated by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to act as Chief of Mission.

General Election/Electoral Issues
Representatives of the University of the West Indies Guild of Students, the National Youth Parliamentary Watch Committee, the National Youth Council, the National Youth Parliament, and the Portmore Youth Council called for the youth portfolio to be removed from the responsibility of Olivia “Babsy” Grange, the current minister, saying that she was not a good manager, lacked leadership, and developed policies irrelevant to Jamaican youth.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s part retained its majority in parliament with a win in the by-election in April. The election was called after a governing party legislator acknowledged that he had U.S. citizenship in violation constitutional rules. Everald Warmington, the Jamaica Labor Party candidate, won his election with 64 percent of the vote in St. Catherine parish. Warmington was born in Jamaica and only acknowledged his U.S. citizenship in March 2011. He resigned his post and gave up his American passport and dual citizenship at that time. 

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) received new powers to establish the boundaries of electoral divisions. The Cabinet approved legislative amendments giving this power to the ECJ. According to Daryl Vaz, the Minister with the responsibility for information, the decision was made in response to recommendations from the ECJ. 

In June it was reveals that a secret diplomatic cable between the United States and Jamaica stated that leaders in Jamaica’s private sector had lost confidence in Prime Minister Bruce Golding. The cable was sent just two years after Golding took office and expressed business sector concerns about Golding’s delayed in reaching a deal with the International Monetary Fund. 

A  June survey by Bill Johnson found that 42 percent of Jamaicans thought that Prime Minister Bruce Golding received the treatment he deserved from attorneys during his testimony in the Manatt-Dudus enquiry. Thirty-five percent believed Golding had been treated rudely by the lawyers. 

Sharon Hay-Webster, Member of Parliament, resigned from the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) in June, stating that she could no longer tolerate the abuse and lack of party support regarding her dual-citizenship case. Critics in and out of the PNP pressured her to relinquish her United States citizenship. 

The Senate expressed outrage at the Jamaica Public Service Company because of the extremely high bills it imposed on electricity consumers, who included a government senator, Hyacinth Bennett. The senator’s home charges for May and June of 2011 totaled more than $163,000. Senator Bennett and several other senators decided to issue a “call for justice” at the utility.

In September, the People’s National Party (PNP) supported hiring an auditing company, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), to review the meter replacement program of the Jamaica Public Service Company. The PNP recommended that JPS operations be overseen by the Jamaican Parliament. 

Robert Pickersgill, the chairman of the People’s National Party (PNP), encouraged his party supporters to work for the end of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) government. Pickersgill’s remarks signaled the beginning of the party’s active campaigning for the general election in 2012. 

Attorney-at-law Tom Tavares-Finson expressed his interest in representing the constituency of West Kingston in the government upon the resignation of Prime Minister Bruce Golding. Some members of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) believed he was responsible for undermining Golding’s efforts, Tavares-Finson denied the allegations, stating that he had long had a desire to represent the people of the West Kingston district. 

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) invited Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development make proposals for enhancing the country’s democracy and avoiding problems presented by unfair and corrupt election campaigns. The proposals seed to prevent governments from being beholden to financial backers, using political office to obtain financial benefits, being obligated to foreign financial donors, and being linked to donors from illegal narco-trafficking and/or money-laundering activities. 

The People’s National Party (PNP) stated in October that it was not worried about recent polls indicating that the general public has a more favorable opinion of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) since the resignation of Bruce Golding as Prime Minister. Portia Simpson Miller, PNP president, said the only so-called “bounce” the JLP will experience in the future is when the people “will be bouncing them out of power.” 

The Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) will hold at least three national debates featuring the representatives of the two major political parties in the country before the general election. The Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) both agreed in principle, to participate in these debates. 

Danville Walker decided to be the candidate for the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) from Central Manchester. According to Walker, the JLP is “the party of performance.” He stated that he wants to help transform Jamaica into a better place to live. 

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition supported an action of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) that required both major political parties to observe certain campaign finance rules, even though there are no laws mandating that they do so. Professor Errol Miller, chairman of the ECJ, said that both parties voluntarily agreed to comply with some of the reform rules. 

Jamaicans were informed of laws governing public processions and marches. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) particularly targeted representatives of the country’s political parties with the information project. Under the Public Order Act, it is illegal for a public march to occur at night or to take place in daylight without a permit issued by the police. 

Don Robotham, professor of anthropology and former dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, stated that the current political process in Jamaica cannot resolve the nation’s problems because it cannot institute the kinds of policies and programs required. For this to occur, a broad range of Jamaicans must participate in finding solutions. 

Audley Shaw, Jamaica’s Minister of Finance, criticized attacks from the People’s National Party (PNP) against the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Program. Shaw, deputy leader of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), called on the PNP to apologize. 

Official discussions between the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) were threatened by Portia Simpson Miller, president of the PNP. Simpson Miller refused to conduct business with the government until it removed itself from issues relating to the National Youth Council of Jamaica (NYCJ). She described the cancellation of a forum at NYCJ by the government as representative of its dictatorial and censoring activities. 

Brian Pengelley, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association, supported a call for a defined job description and list of qualifications for individuals who want to be elected as members of Parliament. Pengelley stated that those who aspire to be MPs should receive clearly defined job descriptions and present quality profiles when they want to be elected representatives and legislators. 

Herro Blair, political ombudsman, received at least 30 complaints involving shootings, bribes, injury, intimidation, and other violent acts during just one week of political campaigning across Jamaica. His office also received reports of party buses being stoned, damaged vehicles, and defaced candidate billboards. He noted that the office of ombudsman actively investigates such reported incidents. 

In mid December, the Jamaica Labor Party was on track to win the General Election on December 29. It had gained six percentage points in a month to take the lead over the Opposition. According to a recent poll, 31 percent of voters said they would vote for the JLP, and another five percent said they probably would do so. Twenty-nine percent said they would vote for the People’s National Party (PNP). This was the first time the PNP trailed the JLP since 2007. While nearly 50 percent of Jamaicans said they were worse off in 2011 than they were in 2007 when the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) took power, most viewed the JLP as more capable of managing the country successfully. Fifty-five percent believe that Andrew Holness deserved to be returned to his post as Prime Minister.

Bruce Golding
The resignation of Bruce Golding as Jamaica’s Prime Minister was the most critical political happening of 2011 Golding was an integral part of the case involving crime lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, and his participation ultimately led to his leaving office. 

In March, Golding prepared to testify at a commission of enquiry investigating the Dudus-Manatt charges. Golding expressed his eagerness to be a witness for the commission and warned that his testimony would be “explosive.” Observers believed he would target the Opposition People’s National Party with particular focus on its lead attorney K.D. Knight. Golding stated that he believed the extradition treaty that existed between Jamaica and the United States favored the U.S.’s ability to compromise the sovereignty of Jamaica and that this imbalance must be corrected. He also stated that officials at the U.S. Embassy were “belligerent” against his government, putting pressure on the country’s Minister of Justice to hand over Christopher “Dudus” Coke in telephone calls made only days after the extradition request was received by Golding’s government in 2009. When asked about the Jamaica Labor Party’s hiring of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips by People’s National Party attorney K.D. Knight during the enquiry, Golding answered that a political party was not required to reveal every detail of its internal operations. 

Finally, in April, after months of denying a request from the U.S. for the extradition of Coke, Golding admitted he had a face-to-face meeting with the alleged drug lord. Golding denied wanting the endorsement of Coke for his political candidacy in 2006, however. 

In June, Golding reported being satisfied with the findings of the investigating commission about the Coke extradition. According to those findings, a panel of three judges agreed that the request violated Jamaica’s constitution, but that Golding acted inappropriately by delaying the request for nine months. The commission recommended that the attorney-general’s office in Jamaica be separated from the Justice Ministry to avoid future conflicts of interest. 

Also in June, Golding prepared for the 2012 General Election by replacing the top justice officials in his Cabinet in a restructuring move. Justice Minister and Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne was dropped because of her testimony during the extradition hearings of Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Golding also changed the leaders of the industry, energy, and agriculture ministries in his restructuring. 

Bruce Golding resigned from his position as Prime Minister of Jamaica at the end of September in response to a potential rebellion of members of the ruling Jamaica Labor Party that could have removed him from office. Trevor Munroe, director of the National Integrity Action Forum (NIAF), believed the resignation of Golding provided an opportunity for Jamaicans to demand more transparency in their government. Golding stated that public perception about how he handled the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke influenced his decision to resign. Golding said his opposition to the U.S. request for extradition was based on the fact that the indictment rested on illegal wiretap evidence; he maintained that the U.S. request for the extradition of Coke was in breach of Jamaica’s Constitution.

Andrew Holness
Andrew Holness, Minister of Education, became the front-runner for the job of ninth Prime Minister of the country when four of his chief rivals gave him their full support. By mid October, Holness was described as a “shoo-in” for the position, with officials of the Jamaica Labor Party saying it was a “foregone conclusion” that Holness would be chosen as the next Prime Minister at the party’s convention. 

When Holness took office as the new Prime Minister upon Golding’s resignation, he left nearly all the ministries the same as they were under former Golding. Holness made only minor changes, but planned to enhance economic and administrative reforms. Upon taking office, Holness took a number of significant actions. 

Holness met with Greg Christie, Contractor General, to discuss concerns about public contracting after Christie wrote him asking to discuss problems of corruption in that sector. Holness also responded to pressure from Britain to repeal its anti-gay legislation by stating that it would be up to Jamaicans to make any decision on the matter. Holness characterized himself as liberal in many ways, but said the government recognizes that homosexuality is offensive to many Jamaicans. Holness said that democracy will ultimately settle the issue, regardless of Britain’s threats to withhold aid if laws that criminalize homosexuality are not repealed. In November, Holness targeted slum politics, stating that it was time to eliminate the connections between the legal and illegal power brokers in the country. Holness was focused on “cutting the ties” between top politicians and leaders of criminal organizations. 

In November, Holness began to give hints that there would be an early general election and agreed with the People’s National Party that election facilities had to be in place before voting could take place. In early December, after being in office less than two months, Holness announced the date of General Elections would be December 29. The two main parties in Jamaica fielded more than 120 candidates for Parliament in total.

Government Corruption
Jamaican citizens indicated their desire for a truth commission charged with handling past violations of human rights, according to a survey by the Truth and Justice Action Group of the Jamaica Council of Churches. Sixty-five percent of 20 experts and eight focus groups across the country supported the creation of a commission. Over 40 percent believed a truth commission would have a positive effect, strengthen democracy and improve the accountability of leaders. Additionally, as a result of the Manatt-Dudus scandal, the public’s attention was focused on finding a way of effectively dispensing justice in the country. The ties between politics, politicians and criminals gave rise to calls for a truth commission to be created and given the responsibility for remedying the corruption found in many parts of Jamaican society. 

Dr. Peter Phillips faced a censure motion from Gregory Mair, North East St. Catherine Member of Parliament. The motion involved the way in which Phillips signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) on behalf of the government of Jamaica. Phillips signed these memoranda in 2004 with representatives from the United Kingdom and United States when he was the Minister of National Security. The MOUs allow information to be shared among these countries in order to combat international crime. The issue has been an important part of the Dudus/Manatt investigation.

Patrick Cole, Lieutenant Colonel in the Jamaica Defense Force, denied claims of Dorothy Lightbourne, Minister of Justice, about a phone conversation he allegedly had with her. Lightbourne claimed that he spoke to her while visiting Lisa Palmer Hamilton, Acting Director of Public Prosecution, about the extradition to the United States of alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Cole says he never spoke to Lightbourne.

Dorothy Lightbourne testified in the Dudus/Manatt enquiry that she knew nothing about issues related to the hiring of a law firm to fight the extradition of Coke to the United States. Lightbourne said she did not know about the authorization received by a Los Angeles law firm to fight the Coke extradition. Coke had been linked to the Jamaica Labor Party.

An independent investigator working for the Jamaican Parliament recommended that a special agency be created to fight corruption in government institutions. Greg Christie, Contractor General, said there was evidence that law enforcement and anti-corruption institutions in Jamaica are not effective in finding the major players linked to corrupt practices. Christie said official graft was at “systemic” levels in Jamaica.

The Jamaican government denied there was a political bias in the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Program (JDIP). The program totals US$400 million and seeks to improve roads and other infrastructure on the island. Mike Henry, Jamaica’s Minister of Transport and Works, said roads are chosen for the program on the basis of economic importance, and not because of political connections. Opposition party members had suggested that politics rules the use of JDIP funds.

The Office of the Contractor-General called for the government to abandon the tender process for a scheduled PNG project because there was evidence of unfairness in the process. The anti-corruption authority wants the government to implement a new tender process under its supervision. After a year of investigation, the commission found the selection of a group led by Exmar of Belgium to be rife with conflicts of interest, documented bias, and preferential handling.

Delroy Chuck, Justice Minister, expressed concern about what he believed to be a proliferation of corruption in the legal system of the country. Chuck said the legal system needed immediate attention. He said police are paid to say they cannot find witnesses, people are paid to destroy critical documents, and cases languish for years without making any progress through the court system.

The issue of dual citizenship was studied by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament. The committee was formed after a recommendation from Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding. Reverend Ronald Thwaites, Member of Parliament, requested that every member declare their citizenship or permanent residency in any nation other than Jamaica. A debate ensued after his motion, focusing on the patriotism of those with other than Jamaican citizenship. 

Mike Henry
Mike Henry Minister of Transport and Works and chairman of the ruling party resigned after allegations that his Ministry mismanaged a road program funded by China. In his resignation, Henry cited “ongoing attacks” on the management of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Program. The program involved $400 million in loans from China for road upgrades, which was to be paid over a five-year period. 

Pearnel Charles, Minister of Labor, stated that his ministry did not issue any work permits to unskilled expatriates to work for China Harbor Engineering Ltd. on the Palisadoes Shoreline Project. Phillip Paulwell, People’s National Party Member of Parliament for East Kingston and Port Royal, said problems occurred because of an imbalance in the number of Chinese workers on the project compared to Jamaican workers. Paulwell says he had pictures of Chinese individuals performing manual labor at the Palisadoes site. Charles claimed that only 24 work permits were issued for that project, and these were for professional engineers from China. Work permits were not granted to unskilled expatriates, he said. 

The Jamaican government said that all 32 Members of Parliament members are “one hundred percent Jamaican.” The government the Opposition party to expose any “aliens” in office. The invitation was prompted by negative public opinion following an announcement in 2011 by Prime Minister Bruce Golding that five of his MPs were not eligible to be seated in the House. 

Dr. Horace Chang, Minister of Housing, Environment, Water and Local Government, suggested that the destruction of documents at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) was suspicious wanted to know why the documents were destroyed. Mystery surrounded the NSWMA just a day after gunmen entered its offices, tied up a security guard, stole computers, and then set fire to files. Chang suggested that it was strange for someone to want to damage the documents and he needed to know the reason.

Human Rights
The passage of the Charter of Rights Bill passed Jamaica’s Senate on April 1, 2011. After the passage, the Constitutional Amendment Act, an accompanying bill, also passed. This bill amended Sections 90 and 91 of the nation’s Constitution, while the Charter of Rights Bill replaced Chapter III of the Constitution. The amendment bill provided additional protections for individuals who receive the death penalty and offered more complete and effective protections of the basic rights of all Jamaican citizens. 

A public service announcement (PSA) produced by the Jamaican gay rights group J-FLAG, which starred Christine Straw, former Miss World and Miss Jamaica pageant queen, and Matthew Straw, her gay brother, will not be aired on Jamaica television. Sources indicated that Christian organizations pressured the leading TV network in Jamaica not to air the ad because it was “too controversial.” 

Taxpayers in Jamaica pay a high price for abuse by police officers, negligence from medical personnel, and other kinds of recklessness among civil servants. Supreme Court judgments and settlements out of court cost the government $365 million in damages since 2006. According to Delroy Chuck, Minister of Justice, the government currently owes nearly $400 million in civil judgments for harm caused by government authorities. 

None of the governments that have come to power in Jamaica have promoted human rights policies as effectively as they might have, according to critics. Jamaica’s legislative system does not guarantee that the country’s laws will “engender a sense of belonging” or “ensure equal rights for all,” including the most marginal and vulnerable groups. Counselors and educators do not receive adequate training to deal with issues of sexuality, and too many appear incapable of removing their personal religious beliefs from their professional duties. 

Jamaican Maroons renewed their call for autonomy and recognition under the nation’s Constitution. Colonel Fearon Williams said that the greatest challenge to their autonomy resulted from Jamaica’s independence in 1962. He made his remarks during a celebration of the 273rd anniversary marking a peace treaty signed between the Maroons and British colonists. The 1962 Constitution failed to address the status of Maroon communities after the nation’s independence, and while relations are good between the government and the Maroons, they want formal recognition under the Constitution.

Bungo Isaacs, a Rastafarian elder, urged the government to show more respect and recognition of the Rastafarian faith. Isaacs made his plea during a lecture at the University of the West Indies attended by many Rastafarians, attorneys, and students. The lecture discussed the so-called Coral Gardens Incident, in which two days of violence involved Rastafarians in 1963. The incident resulted in a crackdown on Rastas by government agents, and some were killed, imprisoned or targets of serious harassment.

Government Actions/Policies
The National Water Commission (NWC) turned its attention to handling the water shortage occurring in many communities in St. Mary. According to Anthony Cornwall, area manager for St. Mary-Portland, the inadequate water supply will be addressed with a master plan for the parish that will ensure the provision of water on a regular basis in the area. Most communities currently receive water only two or three days per week. 

Robert Montague, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, introduced a program designed to provide landowners with more titles. He noted that land tenure had not been settled in the country, as about 52 percent of all land in Jamaica is untitled. This represents more than 480,000 parcels. Project Land was designed to ensure that landowners acquire title to their properties without having to wait for as long as 30 years to do so. 

Jamaica’s Cabinet banned trade in scrap metal indefinitely because scrap metal theft was rampant throughout the country. While it was not an easy decision for the Cabinet, the decision reflected the desire of the government to protect the national interest. An estimated $1 billion in equipment and infrastructure has been stolen to date. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Industry, received stepped-up security after being threatened by those who opposed his ban on the scrap metal industry. The government was more closely scrutinized after it decided to enact a complete shutdown of trade in scrap metal due to the high theft levels in that sector. 

The administration of Prime Minister Bruce Golding reduced the ad valorem fuel tax to 10 percent, down from the previous 15 percent. The action was taken to prevent protests at the national level and will lower the price of gas by four to five dollars per liter. Before the announcement of the reduction, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) indicated it would protest the tax in the streets. 

Christopher Tufton, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, told the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) to enhance its protections of brand Jamaica in regard to rum via Geographical Indication (GI) registration. GI refers to a name or sign used on products that specifies a specific geographical location and represents a certification that these products have certain features, are made according to traditional methods, or have a certain reputation because of their geographical origins. 

The government decided to match the 650,000 euros to be provided by the European Union to help the Jamaican banana industry address market changes arising from globalization. Banana Board General Manager Janet Conie announced that the Board will spearhead the changes over a period of 18 months. The grant funding from the EU will allow the industry to access new markets. 

The Cabinet approved tabling a bill designed to change the Interception of Communications Act. Daryl Vaz, Minister with responsibility for information, said the changes would permit sharing information collected via interception and the use of that information in criminal prosecutions. Under certain guidelines, the bill will allow disclosure of interceptions to foreign governments or agencies of such governments. Senator Dwight Nelson, Minister of National Security and sponsor of the Interception of Communications Act, noted that his bill would be amended to address its lack of extraterritorial application, which would make it easier to share information with agents of foreign states. 

The Police Service Commission (PSC) and the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) will merge as Jamaica’s government implements a major recommendation resulting from a review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). The merger is designed to provide more effective civilian oversight. 

The Road Safety Unit of Jamaica’s Ministry of Transport and Works introduced changes to the Road Traffic Act designed to regulate the use of cell phones and similar devices in cars. These devices have been shown to contribute to a high accident rate. Also proposed was the implementation of tire standards to reduce the number of road accidents. 

Audley Shaw, Minister of Finance and Public Service, said the government would not impose new taxes on citizens to fund a budget gap of $140.8 billion for 2011-2012. Instead, the deficit will be covered using the domestic market to raise $97 billion and external sources for the remaining $43.8 billion. 

The Tobacco Bill finally made its way to Parliament after more than ten years in existence. The legislation is designed to control tobacco use on the island. The bill included a total ban on advertising for tobacco products, a ban on sale of tobacco to minors, and a crack-down on the illegal trading of tobacco products. 

Jamaica’s Inland Revenue, Taxpayer Audit and Assessment and Tax Administration Services Departments merged into a single department on May 1. The new department is called Tax Administration Jamaica. The unification is expected to simplify the tax system and improve its efficiency with better administration and business processes. Finance Minister Audley Shaw said Jamaicans will experience service improvements, and the nation will enjoy enhanced compliance with tax requirements as a result of the merger.

About the author

Cordella Lewis