16 August 2009

Misrepresentation in Politics

John Maxwell

Recent remarks by the Prime Minister remind me of an old joke.
A man who was being tried for murdering both his parents told the court he deserved clemency on the ground that he had recently become an orphan.
Mr Golding is reported to have expressed his dissatisfaction with the legal processes which have left in limbo, the constituents 'represented' by 'Members of Parliament' whose legitimacy is now in question.
I have long had a difficulty with the legal doctrine expressed by the Chief Justice and reinforced by the Court of Appeal.
In my column – "Gaming the System" – published on May 31, I said:
"In a letter to the Editor earlier this week I said I believed that the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal were wrong when they decided that voters had not thrown away their votes when they voted for people who they were warned were not qualified to be elected. I need to withdraw that opinion and apologise for not having paid proper attention to what the judges actually decided..
"According to the judges, the voters were entitled to believe the then Director of Elections when he vehemently and quite erroneously, assured voters that they could ignore the PNP's warnings on the subject. As the law stands, the voters need to be unambiguously certain that they are voting for a candidate who is unqualified before they can be judged to have thrown their votes away.
"There was no way they could be assured of the actual situation in time to do much about it. "
I have after much thought, revised my opinion and I am now convinced that the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal were wrong.

Heads they win, tails we lose

Their judgment and opinions have effectively put the electorate at a disadvantage in that the onus is placed on the voters to assure themselves of the bona fides of candidates for election while giving the people no means of determining whether they are buying what Jamaicans call "a puss in a bag".
It is my view that all candidates offering themselves for election are duty bound to ensure that they are eligible for election and must be legally presumed to have no secrets which would disqualify them.
By offering themselves for election, the candidates are effectively assuring the electorate that they are qualified to sit in Parliament. If the candidate knows, as he must, that his nationality disqualifies him, the fact that he offers himself for election is nothing short of fraud. He is employing false pretences to try to gain a privileged position.
The result of the rulings by the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal is that the fraudulent candidate retains his alien status if he loses the election but has the choice of surrendering his foreign citizenship if he wins. Consider the potential gain in his surrendering his alien status: as a Member of Parliament the fraudster will, after a ritual cleansing in the courts, be eligible for election and, if elected, be entitled to travel on an official or diplomatic passport.
Talk about eating one's cake and having it!
The fraudulent candidate wins either way, the electorate loses. As some assert, Jamaican citizenship is transformed simply into a convenience, a bagatelle. The freedom of travel guaranteed by an American passport is replaced by the greater freedom of travel represented by an official passport at the expense of the Jamaican people.
In the instant cases, the Director of Elections was himself an alien and therefore disqualified from appointment to the job. His intervention therefore, was another fraud on the people and compounds the deficiencies suffered by a so-called sovereign electorate. The Vox Populi becomes the voice of America, and those of us who have worked all our lives to gain and sustain our national integrity, independence, sovereignty and autonomy are left wondering exactly what the struggle was about; why were so many of us denounced, tear-gassed, jailed, beaten, executed and murdered?
I understand that it is a legal principle that a wrongdoer should not, if possible, be allowed to profit from his wrongdoing. In the case of the Alien MPs, the wrongdoers are not punished but rewarded. More than half a century ago, in 1955, Mr George F. Peryer lost his seat and was disqualified from standing as a parliamentary candidate for five years because Mrs. Rose Leon had during the election campaign, made false and defamatory statements on Peryer's platform about his opponent, Mr Percival Broderick. Mrs Leon was unseated and disqualified as might be expected, but it is striking that the law also penalised Peryer who was accused only of permitting Mrs Leon to tell lies about Mr Broderick unchallenged.
It seems clear to me that Peryer, whose sin was one of omission or possibly ignorance, was expected to have known better and to have protected his status as a candidate by denouncing Mrs Leon's misstatements.
The "Alien MPs" were guilty of far graver and more dangerous offences than Mr Peryer and even of Madame Rose, as serious as her offence was. She did attempt to mislead the electorate but not nearly as seriously as the Aliens who deliberately pretended to be something they were not, a form of personation not recognised in the law but even more dangerous than the offence of personation officially recognised – which deals with individual voters and not with an entire voters' list.
The judges' decisions are faulty for another reason: they give more weight to the opinions of the Director of Elections than to the candidates who warned the electorate to beware of voting for unqualified people. As Mrs Leon discovered the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) prohibits false statements made on election platforms. Every PNP candidate who warned electors about the status of their opponent became instantly liable to be punished and disqualified if their statements were untrue.
In those cases, therefore, the ROPA contains its own cure for misrepresentation, and the intervention by the putative "Director of Elections"' was not only improper political behaviour, but totally unwarranted and constituted a false statement made on behalf of candidates for election. Under the law it would seem to me that Mr Walker's misbehaviour disqualified all the "alien MPs' – if the ROPA is to be taken seriously.
Mr Walker, the putative DOE was, like those for whom he vouched, rewarded for his misbehaviour. He was given another highly paid appointment in the service of the government. One wonders whether he has decided to become a Jamaican citizen.
It is my view that all these questions require serious examination by the Constitutional Court. The present position flouts the spirit of the law, devalues the democracy of which we boast and the citizenship of every Jamaican.

Lady Bustamante

Lady Bustamante was a person with whom I had a fairly unconventional relationship. We first met shortly after I joined the Gleaner as a reporter in 1952. As a young and very junior reporter I was frequently assigned to run-of-the-mill political occasions and "Miss G" as she was universally known, paid attention to all the scribes not matter how insignificant.
In January 1955 when I was reporting politics at Public Opinion, (PO) an English journalist named Don Ludlow came to Jamaica for the London Daily Express, to cover two stories: the new wave of Jamaican emigration to the UK and the imminent General Elections.
Don wanted me to help him with contacts and Vic Reid, my Editor, agreed.
About the time Ludlow arrived in Jamaica I had submitted a cartoon idea to Vic Reid who presented it to a young self-taught cartoonist named Bill Reid (no relation) who produced a cartoon titled "Sweep them Out!" showing Norman Manley with a broom sweeping out the JLP, Bustamante and a variety of vices alleged against the government.
The idea caught fire and was adopted by Manley who took to wearing a miniature broom in his lapel and PNP supporters who armed themselves with brooms at every political meeting.
Ludlow wanted to interview Bustamante on election night January 12, 1955, and we hired a taxi to go to May Pen where we found the old warrior at the house of his friend Simeon Shagoury. When we got there `Miss G' – ever protectful of the Chief, demanded to know who I was and I told her – truthfully – that I was the stringer for the London Evening News and omitting my Public Opinion connection. She was clearly not satisfied but was overruled by the "Chief`" who testified that he knew my father.
Busta regaled us with whisky, champagne and wild tales of his reputed past, which differed in important respects from his published biography in the 1940 Who's Who. As the election results came in Busta became increasing contemptuous of his losing colleagues and ended with a denunciation of "Judas Island" – Jamaica – where the people were ungrateful and mean.
Meanwhile the Gleaner had sent my old mentor, Percival Trottman. the News Editor, to get Busta's thoughts on the electoral disaster. Discreetly, 'Miss G' asked Trottman who I was, and shortly after he left she questioned me again. This time I could not deny that I also represented Public Opinion.
Busta was enraged, woke up his sleeping bodyguard police Sergeant Barnett and ordered him to throw us out. Barnett, drunk and half asleep, waved an enormous six-shooter at us and we left in a hurry.
Seven years later, just before Independence, I was the only reporter at the marriage of `Busta and "Miss G" at the RC Archbishop's residence on Hopefield Avenue. When Busta saw me standing outside the fence he wanted to know who I was. When he was told, I was summoned to the presence. He invited me to the reception at Tucker Avenue and despite my protests that I was not dressed for the occasion he insisted. [This was a few weeks after he had tried to have me fired from the JBC]
At Tucker Avenue, I was commanded to kiss the bride, much to her obvious displeasure. Busta insisted.
In later years "Lady B" and I became good friends and one of the regrets of my career is a two hour interview I conducted with her on Power 106 shortly after it opened. After the interview, filled with fascinating personal history, I was told that the studio operator had not recorded it.
I could have strangled the man.
Copyright © 2009 John Maxwell

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