Paula Llewellyn — A fine public servant


Paula Llewellyn — A fine public servant

Whither the talk of constitutional reform

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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In a country riven with corruption and violent criminality as Jamaica is, the work of any director of public prosecution (DPP) is inevitably a difficult one. Prosecutorial integrity cannot be sustained on hearsay, but on hard, credible evidence of crimes being committed. It is not easy to build a case for prosecution in a culture in which witnesses legitimately fear for their lives and will not come forward to say what they know. The work of the DPP's office is made decidedly harder with the limited resources with which it operates. And it is not only the DPP's office that suffers from this problem. Successive governments have been loathed to give corruption and watchdog agencies the robust support in funding and staff which they require to do an effective job.

It is in this context that the renewal of the tenure of the present DPP, Paula Llewellyn, is to be understood.

I do not believe that this context was captured in the recent broadside by Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips to her continuance in the post. For reasons perhaps best known to himself and his inner circle, in his letter to the governor general objecting to her reappointment he bemoaned her poor track record in prosecuting corruption. But in the context aforementioned, any Jamaican given to fairness will appreciate the work that Llewellyn and her staff have accomplished in the 12 years she has served.

She will be the first to admit that mistakes have been made and that there is room for improvement, but her passion for the work and her sense of dedication to it cannot be assailed nor impugned. She has brought a level of integrity to the office that is admirable. At times she has tried to educate the public on legal matters, taking pains to explain without confusing legal terminology why a case went the way it did. Giving her another three years to continue that work is not too much to ask of a dedicated public servant as she is.

The public “cass cass” between the Government and Dr Phillips underscores once again the urgent need to remove these appointments from the hands of politicians and place them in those of independent commissions, appointed by Parliament of which members of the public would be members. This would call for constitutional reform and, as we well know, Jamaican governments over the years have not been impressed with carrying out any far-reaching reform of the Jamaican Constitution. In fact, as a leading Caribbean country, we have failed dismally in this task. While other governments, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, have shown the way, Jamaica has remained lethargic, only being content to offer eloquent platitudes about reform.

The closest that Jamaica ever came to seriously remove The Queen as titular head of state — and thus place the post of governor general in the museum where it belongs — was in the heyday of the Michael Manley-led Administration. If ever there was a time when the Jamaican public would have lined up behind him in retiring this relic of colonialism, that was it, especially after he won the 1976 election. But, like all other governments after him, he became preoccupied with the economic imperatives of the day.

Not even P J Patterson, in his 14 years at the helm, could bring about any change. He talked to the issue, but that is far as he went. Bruce Golding, as leader of the National Democratic Movement (NDM), trumpeted constitutional reform as a basic platform for his movement's desire for governance. He did not win the Government under the NDM banner, but when he became prime minister under the auspices of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) any notion of constitutional reform was forgotten in light of the exigencies of the economic imperatives which bore down on his Administration. One cannot even recall the issue being mentioned during the tenure of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. It is not even a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal under Andrew Holness.

If the truth be told, it must be admitted that radical constitutional reform has never been viewed on a visceral level by any Jamaican Government since Independence. Although the JLP and the People's National Party (PNP) are not creatures of the constitution, both have benefited from the Westminster model, especially in the inordinate powers of appointment that have been granted to the prime minister in this setting. The prime minister and leader of the Opposition will do the constitutional powwow when an appointment has to be made, but there is never a desire to urge change as the Opposition knows that at some point it will have a turn at the wicket.

This is unfortunate for the rest of us. There will be further delays whichever party forms the next Government. Here, again, as never before, the economic imperative will predominate as any post-COVID-19 Government of Jamaica will be hobbled with the necessities of the economic recovery of the country, at least for the first two years. Then the full implications of the effects of the virus on the country will become more evident. There will be widespread economic damage and we have to brace for the fallout. So, yet again, meaningful constitutional reform will be a victim of economic exigency.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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