“Taking a photo is an invitation to explore the world around us as if it were new and mysterious. My favorite shots are always the ones that reveal something — a detail, an angle — I’d previously overlooked. They’re the ones that turn the familiar slightly (or very) alien.”
When you get close to flowers, it can be like entering a different world. Hibiscus……plumbago…
Last week Thursday (February 15, 2018) saw the Ceremonial Opening of Parliament for the new Parliamentary year, with all the attendant pageantry.
This included the usual walk on Duke Street by Government and Opposition Members of Parliament, as they entered Gordon House for the first time for the 2018 – 2019 Parliamentary year.
The new year is always a good time to reflect on the performance of Parliament and its members in the past year. One easily tallied and basic marker is attendance. This is a very limited marker admittedly. It indicates nothing about other basic markers such as punctuality or length of stay at each sitting; it doesn’t indicate participation in debates or voting record. It doesn’t indicate whether or not MPs attended meetings of any Committees they were members of and whether they contributed anything useful during those meetings. There are many other aspects to an MP’s performance in Parliament. But attendance is a good starting point. So as I have for the past two years, I have compiled the attendance record for MPs and posted them on my blog.
There were 47 sittings of the House of Representatives in 2017 – 2018, including the Ceremonial Opening and the special sitting to honour retiring MP and former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. This is an increase over the 41 sittings in 2016 – 2017, though that was a shorter year, beginning in March 2016 after the General Election that February. Four MPs attended all 47 sittings – Dave Hume Brown, Delroy Chuck, Morais Guy and Franklin Witter. It is interesting to note that MP Ian Hayles, who had the worst attendance record last year (having attended only 19 of the 41 sittings), improved his record this year, having attended 36 of the 47 sittings. And despite the requirement in 81(1) of the Standing Orders for the House of Representatives that MPs give apologies for their absences, very few seem to do so, according to these records.
81. Absence of Members – (1) Any member who is prevented from attending a meeting of the House shall acquaint the Speaker as early as possible of his inability to attend, such notices to be in writing.
Do you care, however, if your MP attends Parliament? Or do you think it doesn’t much matter? One way or the other, you can – if you want to – check to see what their record was for last year.
“Explore the use of anonymity to express both that which is common to all of us and the uniqueness that stands out even when the most obvious parts of us are hidden.”
We stopped on Fleet Street in downtown Kingston to take photos of the striking street murals there. I saw the elderly gentleman making his way from the top of the road…
When he drew level with where I stood with my camera, he stopped and greeted me, saying he recognized me. Was I the lady he sometimes saw on TV? I let him know he was right and confirmed my name. We exchanged a few more words and then he continued on his way….
I was saddened to learn on Sunday of the sudden death of Asma Jahangir, the remarkable Pakistani lawyer and human rights advocate, who died of a heart attack at the age of 66. Ms Jahangir was a courageous human rights defender, who had great impact within her own country, as well as internationally in a number of capacities and on a number of issues.
“We have lost a human rights giant,” said Mr. Guterres in a statement.
“Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind […] She will not be forgotten,” he added, expressing his condolences to Ms. Jahangir’s family, friends and colleagues, including in the UN and civil society.
I had the privilege of meeting Ms Jahangir when she visited Jamaica in 2003, for a country visit in her capacity of then United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. I sat with a number of clients of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) – family members of people who had been killed by the police – as they individually told her about the death of their loved ones. At times I helped with translation, when Ms Jahangir wasn’t clear what was being said in patois.
I was struck by the sensitivity, compassion and respect shown towards the family members by Ms Jahangir during her interviews, as they recounted their experiences, often in traumatic detail. Hers was an attitude that was often not shown to them by local officials, as they navigated the long and frustrating search for justice for their relatives.
On the last day of her visit, February 27, 2003, Ms Jahangir held a press conference at the Ministry of Justice to give some initial remarks regarding her observations.
The Gleaner report of the press conference included the following:
A United Nations-led independent assessment of reports of human rights violations in Jamaica has determined that extrajudicial killings are still rampant with not enough policemen being punished for their actions.
Asma Jahangir, the UN Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, yesterday told a press conference at the Ministry of Justice, Oxford Road, New Kingston, after her 10-day mission to the island, that many of the reports she received during her research indicated excessive use of force and targeted killings of individuals which could amount to extrajudicial killings and executions.
“In a number of cases there are strong indications that these reports might be accurate,” Ms. Jahangir said.
“There is a strong belief among the disadvantaged that the police and security forces abuse them with impunity. I’ve often heard the term uptown and downtown
justice being used to describe the notion that two different standards of justice were being applied. Another disturbing element of these reports was the allegations of the apparent lack of interest on the part of the Government in recognising this problem.”
She expressed concern that influential pressure groups justified the excessive use of force as a legitimate measure to fight crime; at the deep anguish expressed by the families of those killed by the police and the frustration of witnesses; that a number of people interviewed showed their reluctance in testifying to such killings as they were afraid of reprisals and had little confidence in the criminal legal system; and that she had received reports of threats by the police against families of the deceased.
Ms. Jahangir, however, had high commendations for the Government’s efforts, and expressed high hopes for change if the conclusions and recommendations from her pending report are considered.
She welcomed the fact that in the last few years the resource allocation to the Police
Public Complaints Authority(PPCA) had been enhanced and that several steps had been taken to further develop the training of police and the security forces, to strengthen community policing and to establish the Police Service Commission.
“Almost everybody I met confirmed that there is an official recognition that despite the high levels of crime, it is crucial to ensure that the police and security forces act in accordance with the law,” she said. “ However, I regret that the public discourse centres on the issue of crime without sufficiently recognising that rough and easy justice only adds to more crime and bitter crime.”
Ms. Jahangir’s mission was prompted by reports of killings of civilians by the police and security forces and included meetings with representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary’s Bureau of Special Investigations, the PPCA, the Jamaica Constabulary’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and Jamaicans for Justice.
She is now mandated to recommend further constructive measures that the Government can take in addressing the challenges they are facing.
“ I’m not satisfied, of course, otherwise I would not be here,” she said. “There have been convictions of 136 policemen (between 1990 and 2001) on complaints of abuses
but not on extrajudicial killings. I believe the number is very, very low when it comes to this, it is possibly just a couple…”
She said that she was impressed with the openness of Government leaders and ordinary citizenry in expressing their concerns.
Gleaner, February 28, 2003, pp A1 & A6
Later that year, Ms Jahangir’s report was delivered and included references to the wide range of individuals and organizations she met with. It outlined the context of her visit and detailed the concerns that arose from her observations. A number of individual cases were described: Janice Allen and her family, Richard Williams, Michael Gayle, Basil Brown, Patrick Genius, the persons killed and injured in West Kingston in July 2001 and the Braeton 7. The report ended with a list of conclusions and recommendations. Nearly fifteen years later, it is worth reading to note both what changes have taken place and what remains more or less the same.
“When you start off, there’s something inside you telling you to do it. And it comes because you have a heart and an eye and the courage to stand up against those forces—and there are plenty of them, believe me—that do not wish to see people free. Human rights, it’s not a job, it’s a conviction. I have used the law as an instrument, and I’ve used the courts, but I have been on the streets, as well. I’ve been in protest marches. I have been to prison. I’ve been under house arrest. So, for each issue and for each incident, there has to be a thought-out strategy. Justice is a rare commodity in our part of the world. Very rare. But sometimes even shouting for justice gives you some satisfaction that you’re being heard. And you must be heard. You knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and one day they are going to hear.”
(I was Chairperson of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice in 2003, when Ms Jahangir visited. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)
“Share with us an image, or two, or three, (or more!) of where you live. For bonus points, tell us what it is about the photo(s) that you love.”
I have lived in the Kingston Metropolitan Area of Jamaica almost all of my life. On the flat land of the Liguanea Plain. And I love the surrounding hills and mountains that you can see…driving on the Palisadoes strip, on the way in from the airport…
…to the west, as the morning sun shines on them…
…the mountains to the north, seen from Hope Gardens….
A flat lander, who loves being able to see the hills….
In Parliament last week Tuesday (January 30, 2018), during the discussion about extending the period of Public Emergency in St James, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips both commented on the functioning of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Their comments fit into an ongoing narrative that paints INDECOM as not being “balanced” in its approach and acting in a way that demoralizes the members of the security forces it is mandated to investigate.
Dr Phillips: I’d like to end by also offering our commendations to the security forces for, not only in this area in St James but generally, the rank and file for the most part and the officers for the most part have conducted themselves with commendable efficiency in very difficult circumstances and they are to be commended. And I think even as they go, not only there but in the other areas of the country, while we urge them to obey the law, I want to urge those who investigate them, including INDECOM, to be mindful of the circumstances in which they operate. If I can be blunt, if INDECOM has a problem with the members of the security forces, I don’t think they should disarm them in public in full view of the citizens. I think that that unnecessarily demoralizes the men and women who are urged to obey the law, but who operate in what is a very dangerous situation on the street. There is literally a war that has been declared on society and in that circumstances you cannot weaken those who serve in the face of those who attack them.
In responding to Dr Phillips, PM Holness said:
You mentioned INDECOM. We take the view that there really needs to be balance in how INDECOM operates. I’ve decided not to go any further with my comments on INDECOM. I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions…to ensure that that very important institution operates with balance.
(A video recording of the session in Parliament is available here. Dr Phillips’ comment begins at 1:11:59 & PM Holness’ comment begins at 1:37:00.)
The following day, INDECOM issued two press releases in response to the comments in Parliament. In the first, the Commission refuted Dr Phillips’ assertion:
In the second, INDECOM shared Commissioner Williams’ letter to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, requesting an opportunity to be informed of the perceived problems and to respond:
Dear Minister Chuck,
Re: Remarks in Parliament on INDECOM
Reference is made to the captioned.
On the 30th instant, remarks were made in Parliament that INDECOM needed “balance” in its work and that INDECOM’s investigators were disarming police officers in public spaces.
As a Commission of Parliament, INDECOM is obligated to make reports to Parliament on matters of concern. We do not know what claims advised the assertion that our work lacks balance and would appreciate an opportunity to be so advised and to respond. As misinformation must not be permitted to direct policy.
The remark about disarming of police officers ia an example of misinformation. This was raised by the Police Federation during the Joint Select Committee’s Review of the INDECOM Act. We were able to debunk this claim. The position remains that police officers are disarmed by their colleagues and this is done at the police station. A 2014 JCF Force Order published the agreed protocol between the JCF in this regard.
Given your statutory remit to serve as the liason between INDECOM and Parliament, INDECOM seeks your kind intervention in this matter to permit us to be aware of assertions being made and to answer them.
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATIONS
Terrence F Williams
This is not the first occasion on which PM Holness has spoken about INDECOM needing to be more “balanced” in its approach or for the need to review or make changes to the INDECOM Act. It is unfortunate and unhelpful, however, that the Prime Minister hasn’t been more specific in making clear exactly what he means by “balance/balanced” or what aspects of the Act he thinks need further review or need to be changed. His repeated references without specificity encourage speculation, limit INDECOM’s ability to respond and may have the effect of eroding confidence in the workings of the Commission.
Review of the INDECOM Act
Section 37 of the INDECOM Act, which came into effect in 2010, requires periodic reviews of the Act, the first to take place no later than three years after the Act came into effect.
In 2013, a Joint Select Committee (JSC) was established to review the Act; it began its examination on June 27, 2013, held 23 meetings, concluded its report in October 2015 and the report was tabled in Parliament in November 2015.
A copy of the report is available here: Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act. What has happened to the report since it was submitted to Parliament? Which of the JSC’s recommendations have been accepted or rejected? What amendments to the Act are to be tabled in Parliament? More than two years after the report was submitted, it would be reasonable for the public to have some official word via Parliament.
A September 29, 2016 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) release titled “Cabinet Looking at Report on INDECOM” included the following reference to a statement made by National Security Minister Robert Montague:
Last year there was a report in the media that Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck had indicated there had been some movement regarding Cabinet’s consideration of the JSC recommendations, but there has still not been any action in Parliament regarding the report and its recommendations.
And this is part of what makes the comments in Parliament last week by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister so remiss. Parliament passed a law establishing INDECOM, a Commission of Parliament (2010). That law passed by Parliament required a review of the law not more than three years after passage. Parliament established a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to conduct that review (2013). That Committee of Parliament held meetings over two years and produced a report containing its recommendations. That report was tabled in Parliament (2015). More than two years later, there has been no further action in Parliament regarding that report and its recommendations (2018). Yet the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition found it appropriate to make the comments they did in Parliament.
The Prime Minister did say “I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions….” Yes, I would suggest that Parliament – that Parliamentarians – take some action, make some decisions. The current situation really makes a mockery of Parliament’s own processes.
In September 2017, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request for
“copies of any protocols, procedures, guidelines, etc governing the use of body-worn cameras by members of the JCF. I am interested in copies of any such documents that are currently in force or have been used at any time in the past.”
I initially submitted the request to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) directly and it was subsequently transferred to the Ministry of National Security, which is where I am told it ought to have been submitted in the first place. After much back and forth and delay, and with the assistance of the ATI Unit, today I received a copy of the JCF’s Policy & Procedures on Body-Worn Cameras. The cover of the document indicates that it was developed in November 2017 & disseminated as an Appendix to the JCF Force Orders No. 3675, dated November 9, 2017. (These dates may indicate in part the reason for the delay in response to my ATI request made in September 2017.)Click here to access a copy of the document: JCF Policy & Procedures on Body-Worn Cameras Nov 2017
I have had a chance to do only a quick read through the document, which does not seem to be sufficiently detailed and specific on first reading. There also seem to be a number of gaps, with some significant issues left unaddressed. I’ll obviously consider it more closely when I read through it again, but in the meantime, what do you think? I have repeatedly said, “If the public doesn’t know what the protocols and procedures are, how can we know if they are adequate?” So here they are. Are they adequate?