Sunday Brew - April 5

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Sunday Brew - April 5

With H G Helps
Editor-at-Large
Helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 05, 2020

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Please Prime Minister, give us an attorney general

In effect, this country has been without an attorney general since the Jamaica Labour Party assumed office in March of 2016.

I am aware that Prime Minister Andrew Holness asked someone to sit in the office normally reserved for Jamaica's attorney general, who, among other things, is the Government's chief legal advisor.

Marlene Malahoo Forte is the person who occupies the office, but the countless blunders coming from that space seems to suggest that it is time that the prime minister acts, and acts decisively.

The latest cough-up and sneeze-up occurred days ago when noted constitutional lawyer Dr Lloyd Barnett cited the legality of the prime minister restricting the movement of Jamaicans without declaring a state of emergency.

Now, when the initial announcement was made, it felt odd that there was no legal apparatus put in place, and this was coming from one like me – a mere bush lawyer. Dr Barnett, a man whose knowledge of the constitution can hardly be questioned, has been joined by other well-learned lawyers, among them Dudley McLean, in suggesting that the proper procedures were not followed.

Now, there are those who will say that we are facing a crisis, and as such the constitution can be ignored. I would caution those so minded. The prime minister can advise the Governor General to issue a proclamation declaring a state of emergency when one is warranted. He needs parliamentary approval only when he is seeking an extension.

Why then did he not go that route, considering that no sober Opposition would oppose him when the time comes for an extension, if it is needed? What did the attorney general say?

We have seen some silly recommendations coming from the attorney general's office, including the NIDS Bill, and now not following the constitution again in respect of the non-declaration of a state of emergency. Her arrogant comments afterwards that “we don't have the luxuries of sitting down and getting into niceties” were most unfortunate.

Things cannot continue like this. The experiment with Malahoo Forte, in merely holding the fort, has failed. Big flop! That mistake must be corrected. Jamaica needs an attorney general.

Forget the 8-6 curfew; shut the country down

The Holness Administration has done a decent job so far in advising the population of Jamaica of the steps taken to contain COVID-19.

Communication with the public has been good, even though the Administration needs to start news conferences on time and not hours after the scheduled beginning.

It is always good for the prime minister to be at the forefront of a fight such as this one, and that has been going quite well. It shows the public that the most important man in the country is leading by example. But what of the people themselves? Why are they pussyfooting when clear messages are being sent out by the State that they should resort to certain measures for their own safety?

During this period, there should not be traffic jams in any part of the Corporate Area. That is not the case. If you go downtown Kingston on any given day, you see thousands of people still going about their ordinary business, instead of trying to protect themselves from the coronavirus. We are not serious.

Instead of imposing a curfew from 8:00 pm to 6:00 am for a week, the Government should shut the country down, and allow only certain professionals to be on the streets, like the armed forces, medical workers, journalists, pharmacists, water officials, garbage collectors, among others. In other words, there should be a 24-hour curfew for one week.

A curfew at night will achieve minimal results. Locking down the country will save Jamaica.

The Opposition should not be blamed

The COVID-19 situation in Jamaica seemed to have got to the brain of some of our legislators, which might have accounted for the Government's childish behaviour in respect of the sitting of the House of Representatives last Tuesday.

The People's National Party has not distinguished itself as the ideal Opposition, but the party should not and cannot be blamed for what transpired last Tuesday.

For the record, parliamentarians were informed by e-mail sent to Leader of Opposition Business in the House Dr Morais Guy on Monday that there would be no sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, nor of the House of Representatives for Tuesday. Lo and behold, the PNP members were told around 12.30 pm on Tuesday that the House would be sitting at 2:00 pm that same day. Unfair!

You are dealing with adults here. You cannot tell Members of Parliament the day before, that the sitting of the House is cancelled and jump up the next day, one and a half hours before the scheduled start to tell them that it's on again. And come to think of it, there was nothing so urgent that the prime minister had to announce that he could not do in other fora (now forums).

For Prime Minister Holness to say that MPs are on standby, standby for what?, meetings in Parliament or to be mobilising in their constituencies in this tough period?

The real insult though was when Leader of Government Business in the House, Karl Samuda said during the sitting attended only by Government MPs that he hoped Jamaica was looking on and will judge for themselves. Utter stupidity!

Samuda called the sitting a matter of life and death. Really?

What we need going forward is respect for all. You can't tell parliamentarians that meetings are off, and then turn on a switch to say they are on again, just like that. Let's be reasonable, the PNP members must have made alternative plans. They are not robots that can be switched on and off at will.

That was a low blow, Mr Samuda.

Calming a teenager with COVID-19 fear

Even in tight situations, sometimes we find time to smile or laugh. It was no laughing matter last week though when it emerged that a 13-year-old had died overseas, arising from complications with COVID-19. Sad!

There is a young lady in St Mary, aged 15, who upon hearing of the coronavirus rushed home that evening three weeks ago and locked herself in her room, not wanting to even venture out for occasional visits to the washroom or to even eat. She was terrified of the news associated with the virus. “Me 'fraid, me caaa dead so early ... me no live no life yet,” she kept on saying.

Even after a few sessions of trying to calm her by telling her that contracting the virus was not a death sentence, and that in her age group deaths were unheard of, it did not matter.

Now, last week she heard of the poor child who demised. And right away, the fretting started all over. “You seet, me tell you. Him was even younger than me.”

What do you say to that child? Well, the message must continue – stick to the health guidelines as best as you can, and hope for the best.


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