John Myers Jr, Gleaner Writer
The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has declared it will participate in the upcoming commission of enquiry into the May 2010 incident in Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston, and will be seeking the assistance of international experts to prepare its members and residents of the community who might be summoned to testify.
JLP Leader Andrew Holness, speaking during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday, denied reports in which some members indicated that the party would not participate in the commission of enquiry, pointing out that its members would be obliged, under Jamaican law, to appear if summoned.
“We will be participating. We will be mobilising and I have already said we will provide support to the people of west Kingston,” he said, ending all speculation that the party would boycott the proceedings.
He, however, maintained his party’s stance that a commission of enquiry was not the appropriate and most effective means to arrive at justice for those who were affected.
“What would the commission of enquiry conclude differently from what the public defender has concluded without forensic examination?” he questioned.
NEED TO GIVE ACCOUNT
Public Defender Earl Witter recommended, in an interim report into the police-military operation in Tivoli, which left more than 70 people dead, that a public enquiry be held, calling for former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, other past Cabinet ministers and senior security personnel to give an account of their oversight of the events.
But according to the opposition leader, “There is a problem with commissions of enquiry because they are becoming more like courts rather than an investigative body into how Government has failed to function.”
JLP member and former resident magistrate, Marlene Malahoo Forte, said she, too, did not support the proposal to stage a commission of enquiry. She argued instead that a coroner’s inquest would deliver far more by way of accountability.
“I am not always in favour of commissions of enquiry for the simple reason that they have not held actors accountable in the past and, if we are looking to hold people criminally accountable, for example, the commission of enquiry would have gone through a lot of time and a lot of money … but what comes after that?” she asked.
According to her, “We have bastardised the proceedings and sometimes we have used the commission of enquiry as the medium to address an issue, when, in truth and in fact, it is not the appropriate medium when you look at the menu of choices available … and at the end of the day, very little is done.”
She added: “To my mind, you can question whether in the first instance there was any commitment to hold someone accountable.”
A coroner’s inquest, she said, based on the Coroners’ Act, is supposed to enquire into sudden unexplained death. As for the May 2010 Tivoli incursion, Malahoo Forte argued that one of the main determinations would be whether a crime was committed in the circumstances of the reported deaths.
She continued: “If we were to sort out what are some of the things people are calling for, starting with holding people criminally liable, because you are alleging that the whole manner under which the operation was done crimes were committed, you have two, at a minimum, avenues that are open: Do the coroner’s inquest if you don’t know who is to be charged … . If it is that there are statements and files which disclose that a particular suspect can be identified, the DPP should be called upon to exercise her power and proffer a voluntary bill of indictment.”
Despite his reservations, Holness said a commission of enquiry would provide “an opportunity for them (residents of Tivoli) to tell their side of the story”. In this regard, he said the JLP – which controls the West Kingston seat – has “a duty to help them to organise themselves to do that, so I have just recruited the services of a human-rights lawyer”.
Additionally, the JLP leader said, “We are trying to figure out the best way to approach the international agencies … . We will be considering getting international assistance.”
Amnesty International said last week that it would have been unfortunate if the JLP, which formed the Government at the time of the May 2010 Tivoli operation, chose not to participate in the commission of enquiry.