Fri | May 24, 2019

Daniel Thwaites | Of the economy, savagery and NIDS

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2019 | 12:18 AM

I was unsure if The Gleaner was going to produce an Easter Sunday newspaper, so that, coupled with a demanding travel schedule, had left me nursing hopes of taking another week off. No such luck. Still, there is lots of news to comment on, so I will just touch a few topics.

We have an economy that seems to be humming along well. Throngs of people, myself along with them, are putting a few shekels and drachmas into the Wigton Wind Farm divestment. Good move by the Government there.

Then the latest unemployment numbers, indicating that only eight per cent of the labour force is unemployed, is heartening.

I’ve been reading criticisms that STATIN is counting as employed people who work even just one hour per week, and people like the windshield wipers on the roadside, whose laborious contributions the society could arguably do without. But then again, that is true of many a banker and lawyer, so let’s stick with STATIN.

The country continues to reap the gains from the bipartisan, multi-administration maturation about the impossibility of continued deficit-spending and debt-accumulation. It’s what you might call a ‘virtuous cycle’.

That said, I fear that only widespread vigilance can keep our Government, whichever party forms it, under constraint. Otherwise, our penchant for ramping up spending to win elections will lead to ruin again. If the recently concluded by-election in Eastern Portland is a portent of the future, we are very far from having escaped that threat.

Don’t get me wrong, Cyaapet-man Nigel ah gwaan good, but he is not politically positioned, or perhaps personally ‘cussed’ enough, to resist the demands when election-fever kicks into high gear. And there’s only so much money the Government can continue to rob out of the NHT.

UNCHECKED SAVAGERY

Then there’s the horrific death of Shantae Skyers, which has jolted the nation’s conscience. We’re left to wonder what kind of unchecked savagery could cause people to kill an eight-year-old. Following that horror came another, where the residents of little Shantae’s community beat, then burnt and killed a man they suspected was involved in the child’s murder. They also burned his house down.

Curiously, the police had already arrested two men in relation to the murder, meaning that the residents ought to have had some assurance that the cops were on the job, and in any case, a bunch of people clearly concluded that it was better to beat and burn instead of tell the police what you know.

That kind of behaviour signals so much. Anger, and maybe ignorance. Although when people take things into their own hands it could be because they know things many others of us would like to forget. Certainly it signals a tremendous lack of confidence in the police, and for that matter, in the whole judicial apparatus. That’s what you might call a ‘vicious cycle’.

In my own way, I have a grave distrust of the police. It was one of the animating concerns for my complete disagreement with NIDS. Imagine if the NIDS, with all that biometric and other data, was in place. How long before I would write something unflattering about the security minister who succeeds my pal Minister Chang, who might then be able to call my mom to let her know that DNA cross-matching analysis has revealed she’s got grandchildren in St Mary? Not long at all. Sorry, mom. So much for that argument that only criminals have things they want to hide.

KICKED IN THE SEEDBAG

Speaking of failure, there’s now no doubt whatsoever that Chief Justice Sykes would have FAILED Mr Holness’ ‘performance test’. Holness had initially announced Sykes as ‘acting’ chief justice, with the promise to hold him accountable, whatever that was going to amount to and entail.

Jamaica’s legal fraternity and civil society, more broadly, saw that as an immediate threat and the negative reaction was swift and uncompromising. Mr Holness dithered for a while to save face, but then acceded. Thank heavens for the activism, and also that Andrew is not so stubborn as to be unable to see that he had to back up.

I mean, I hate to bring up the past, but you might remember these words:

“Actions that bring results will determine the assumption of the role of chief justice.”

The howling protests followed, in response to which came:

“I come from a different school, a different age and a different way of thinking. It may not always coincide with those that have traditional views … .Those who want to criticise have the luxury of doing it. I have the luxury of running a country and being accountable to the taxpayers for the results of the systems that we are elected to run.”

Now the most charitable interpretation of Andrew’s comments is to say they stemmed from a burning desire to see cases processed expeditiously, which is a legitimate concern. However, he seemed willing to trash the Constitution, legal convention, and just plain good sense, to tackle it. Few men think it wise, having found a flea in their couch, to set fire to the whole house. Yet, there we were.

Ninety-seven judges gathered and issued a statement of “grave concern”:

“It is … our considered view that declarations of the prime minister relative to the acting appointment unquestionably have serious implications for the fundamental principles of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.”

Memba dat?

So this NIDS ruling is Part 2 of that cycle, which I suppose you will deem vicious or virtuous, depending on taste. Because who can miss that Chief Justice Sykes has kicked Government right in the seedbag with an unforgettable ruling that has restated, reaffirmed, and further cemented separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary?

God knows, if Sykes was just an ‘acting’ chief justice, after this NIDS ruling he would be ‘acting’ like Ruel is now acting education and information minister.

For my part, I see a virtuous cycle beginning with the ringing endorsement of the Charter of Rights by Chief Justice Sykes and his colleagues. NIDS is no more. So my secret’s safe from mom. And it’s a Happy Easter after all.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.