Search

News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean

Month

September 2013

Urgently Needed: Reform of Treatment of OCG Reports

Jamaican Parliament Photo by DJ Miller
Jamaican Parliament
Photo by DJ Miller

September 22. 2013: If we are serious about the work done by the Office of the Contractor General, we must urgently reform the way in which reports from that office are dealt with. Currently reports from the OCG are tabled in Parliament, make the headlines, serve as fodder for the talk shows, prompt a flurry of press releases from whoever is named in the reports. And that’s it.

This is entirely inadequate and we, as Jamaicans, must press for more. Each report from the OCG must be subjected to Parliamentary scrutiny and debate. Unfortunately, the public’s attention tends to be focused on the OCG’s referrals to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal prosecutions, and it is these referrals that generate most of the heat associated with the report. This is usually  to the detriment of other, very serious issues raised.

Attorney-at-law Clyde Williams has stated that such referrals should, instead, be sent to the DPP under confidential cover, to be publicized only if the DPP decides that criminal charges should be laid. I support this. If the DPP decides that there is no evidence to support criminal charges, then the matter would end there, without possibly unfair public exposure of the persons involved. 

From a practical point of view, it surely cannot be of assistance in an on-going criminal investigation to announce to the world – and the subject – that such an investigation is under-way.

In the meantime, without the focus on a DPP referral,  the nation would have been free to focus on what is usually the gravamen of the reports – maladministration and breakdowns in systems of government.

Here are four examples from the Spaulding Market Report which have received almost no attention.

  1. Given the finding that Officers of the Clarendon Parish Council were reticent in addressing the issue of the illegally constructed wooden shops, the CG is recommending that an accountability framework be created and implemented to clearly outline the reporting relationships and obligations of Officers at the Parish Councils in order to ensure that there is no recurrence of the lack of action which has tainted the Clarendon Parish Council.
  2. The CG is recommending that there be an absolute separation of the responsibilities of the Members of Parliament in regard to the identification and/or approval of projects which are to be undertaken in their Constituency and the selection and/or approval of Contractors to execute the identified works. In the event that an absolute separation is not feasible, the CG recommends that the appropriate checks and balances be put in place to ensure that there is no undue political interference.
  3. The CG recommends that the Clarendon Parish Council, and any other Public Body which is seeking to recover the cost of electricity or any other utility, establish an equitable, legitimate, measurable and realistic basis upon which to charge and/or recover the cost of such utilities which are provided to third parties.
  4. Given the circumstances which have surrounded the entire Spalding affair, the OCG is recommending that a legislative and/or governance framework be established to guide Ministers of Government and Members of Parliament as it concerns their roles, functions, responsibilities and involvement in the decision making processes of Public Bodies. The legislative and/or governance framework should detail the appropriate sanctions which can be adopted should a Minister and/or Member of Parliament overstep his/her authority as it concerns the functions of a Public Body.

These are all recommendations from just ONE report that have the potential to significantly improve standards of governance and transparency.

I would recommend that the following is the procedure that should be followed:

1. OCG report is tabled in Parliament.

2. The Report should be scrutinized, perhaps by a Parliamentary Committee which then reports to the House and Senate.

3. The House and Senate should debate the report and the relevant Minister should announce in Parliament which recommendations are to be accepted, and in what time frame they will be implemented. The Minister should also explain the reasoning behind the rejection of any of the recommendations.

4. After six months, the Minister should come back to Parliament with a statement indicating the progress made on implementation.

All this can be done even as debate continues over the possible reform of the office, and the establishment of a single Anti-Corruption Agency. Indeed, a similar procedure  should be followed in relation to reports from any such agency to ensure that the country receives maximum benefit from these investigations.

Considerable work goes into these reports. We have established the Office of the Contractor General and we mouth platitudes about the importance of transparency and good governance. Let’s show that we mean it.

Obama: Nobel Peace Prize Material?

English: President Barack Obama with the Nobel...
English: President Barack Obama with the Nobel Prize medal and diploma during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Raadhuset Main Hall at Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. Image has been cropped from original. The diploma reads (in English): “The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting has, in accordance with the terms of the will set up by Alfred Nobel on the 27th of November 1895, awarded Barack H. Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who remembers now that nearly four years ago, US President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

It was an astonishing award to make less than a year after Obama’s historic win as the first black president of the US. At that time, it wasn’t yet clear how the elements of Obama’s foreign policy would play out. He had not yet hit his stride as President. Which is precisely why he never should have received the award.

It is always dangerous to give a sitting political leader such a signature award. Why? Because it could prove embarrassing when the real thrust of his foreign policy begins to emerge. The Nobel Committee should be feeling that embarrassment now.

Consider, for example, the drone (unmanned aerial vehicles) attacks in Pakistan.  The attacks began under the leadership of George Bush and have escalated under President Obama to target Pakistani Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The Washington Post said in December 2011:

“Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.”

Since then, we have had a statement in March 2013  from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism  as follows:

 “As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State. It involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

The non-profit, non-partisan think tank New America Foundation states that it aims “to provide as much information as possible about the covert US drone program in Pakistan in the absence of any such transparency on the part of the American government.”

It estimates the following deaths in Pakistan due to US drones:

2004 –  7

2005 – 15

2006 – 94

2007 – 63

2008 – 298

2009 – 549

2010 – 849

2011 – 517

2012 – 306

2013 – 113 (to date)

So President Obama has been pressing ahead with a campaign resisted by Pakistan, and which has been killing hundreds of its civilians.

Now consider Obama’s current posturing on Syria. He had been pressing strongly for military action before managing to reach any international consensus on the matter,  even before the official report of the UN inspectors regarding Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons had been turned in (albeit on the basis of his own intelligence.) Even as the British Parliament voted against military involvement, even as the issue divided leaders at the G20 Summit concerned about the possible impact, President Obama remained clear that his intention was to proceed with military strikes.

With armed conflict looming, Amnesty International issued a call to protect civilians to the greatest extent possible. This is because, well, civilians tend to get killed in these “strikes.” Refer here to previous accounts of the deaths in Pakistan.

A US-Russia deal may well have averted war, this time. But attempts to broker a deal were initially dismissed by a sceptical President Obama.

The President said in a statement Saturday that:

“Following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 men, women, and

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland pre...
Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland presents President Barack Obama with the Nobel Prize medal and diploma during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Raadhuset Main Hall at Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

children on August 21, I decided that the United States must take action to deter the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, degrade their ability to use them, and make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military force, we now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy. “

But the threat of force is not off the table, because according to President Obama:

“…if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”

This is what the Nobel Committee said in 2009:

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”

Really? Does that sound like the 2013 President Obama? A strong, decisive US president? Maybe. A Nobel Peace Prize recipient? Not in my book.

 

 

 

Statement from RJR Group re TVJ Chairman’s Resignation

Kingston. Jamaica. September 13, 2013. The RJR Communications Group has completed its investigation into issues arising from the participation of one of our reporters in an interview arranged with Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson and held at the offices of their attorneys, Samuda and Johnson, in which the Chairman of Television Jamaica, Milton Samuda is a partner and participated in the monitoring of the interview.

There was a departure from the arrangements for the interview which led to Mr. Samuda requesting and the reporter handing over to him the tape recording of the interview, whereupon the tape was erased and later an edited recording was supplied to TVJ.

Once the matter was disclosed to the management it became clear that issues of, apparent authority impacting editorial guidelines and journalistic practice and policy were contravened.

The company conducted a full investigation and the following are the key findings:

1. The pre-agreed conditions for the interview and departing from them have shown editorial and journalistic breaches for which the reporter has apologised, accepted responsibility and has also accepted disciplinary action.

2. There were corporate governance issues and policy breaches which the Chairman of TVJ accepts.

Mr. Samuda has advised that the investigation having been completed and he having absolutely no desire to see the names of RJR and TVJ, to which he is committed, called into question, he has resigned from the Boards of both entities.

Mr. Samuda served the Board of Radio Jamaica for seventeen (17) years and was Chairman of TVJ for thirteen (13) years, during which time his conduct was exemplary. We thank him for his more than one and a half decades of service and place on record that his decision to resign underscores the credibility and integrity of leadership which are hallmarks of these companies which he served.

The RJR Group has an enviable track record in leadership and good journalistic practices. We will continue to maintain the high standards which the public has come to expect of us.

In due course, the company will disclose the new appointments to its Boards of Directors.

 

Friday’s Statement by PAJ in Response to Milton Samuda

5 East Avenue, Camperdown, Kingston 8

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Kingston, Jamaica – August 30, 2013

PAJ RESPONDS TO MILTON SAMUDA’S STATEMENT RE: ERASING OF TAPE INCIDENT

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) like Mr. Milton Samuda, will await the full investigation of the RJR Communications Group into the matter of the erasing of tapes of journalists. In the interim, a special meeting of the PAJ will be convened to further discuss the attorney’s statement.

The PAJ wishes to however point out, that in a frank and open discussion with Mr. Samuda and his team, some of the issues raised were individual opinions stated by members and not the final, official and publicly – stated opinion of the PAJ.

On the issue of ‘payola’, it was suggested by Mr. Samuda to the meeting that there was a ‘private arrangement’ between the journalists and the publicist. This led to a probe by the PAJ team as to the full meaning of this statement. Mr. Samuda offered no further explanation. He was then asked bluntly if ‘payola’ was involved. No further clarity was provided.

 

Jenni Campbell

PAJ President

Disclosure: I am a member of the PAJ and work for TVJ

 

 

Milton Samuda’s Statement – issued Friday August 30, 2013

STATEMENT FROM

MILTON J. SAMUDA

ATTORNEY-AT-LAW

 

TO ALL EDITORS

 

 

August 30, 2013

 

 

Since returning to the Island last Friday, I have taken note of the release by the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) in relation to the meeting between its team and mine. I have also taken note of the report concerning the resolution passed at the recent 70th Annual General Meeting of the PAJ.

 

In relation to the joint meeting, I too am disappointed in the outcome of the meeting particularly because in that meeting although there was substantial meeting of the minds for a joint release yet, ironically, as two disciplines schooled in the use of words, we could not agree on the words which would accurately reflect that substantial meeting of minds which in fact occurred.

 

In my view the critical aspects of the meeting were:

 

  1. I recorded my disappointment that although the PAJ said it had investigated the matter, that investigation did not at any time include a discussion with me. I told the meeting that in my view an investigation must include both sides.

 

  1. I re-stated that I did not select the journalists. Though it may be convenient to think that I influenced or chose TVJ to be represented is simply not factual.

 

  1. There definitively was an agreement by the journalists to pre-conditions for the interview in that there was an agreement by the journalists to restrict their questioning to the areas that would not prejudice my clients’ imminent hearing. If in accordance with their tenets of journalism they could not participate for ethical reasons, I would have expected them to say so and it would have been understood and accepted. If the journalistic principles that the PAJ espouse are applied to these journalists then they had the option to decline the interview, not to attend or to leave at any point. They agreed to and participated in the process in which we were balancing the public interest matter with the guidelines for a fair hearing.

 

  1. The PAJ’s complete rejection of “pre-conditions” for interviews as inimical to free and open coverage and of this only being facilitative of public relations.

 

  1. From my legal discipline, I re-asserted that the journalists had an obligation to honour their commitment having agreed to the pre-conditions. Clearly, this is the core issue that separates us on this aspect of the matter.

 

  1. The PAJ emphasized in our discussions, and we agreed, that if the principles are as they say, the acceptance of pre-conditions for the interview was highly unprofessional by the journalists and should not have been accommodated in the first place; and further that the journalists should have disclosed the conditions agreed and obtain prior clearance from their supervisors or editors to enter any such agreement, which they did not.

 

  1. I pointed out that the journalists having showed up equipped and ready for an interview, having agreed to pre-conditions, I assumed that they had clearance from their supervisors or editors.

 

  1. That in acting as counsel to my clients, in those circumstances I was not then and am not now cognizant of any rule which prohibited the press from making agreements, including pre-conditions, in relation to interviews. Accordingly I did not think that the agreement was outside accepted norms.

 

  1. The assertion in the meeting by the PAJ Team that the journalists ought to be dismissed for agreeing to the pre-conditions. However, this is not reflected in their public positions.

 

  1. The agreement by the journalists themselves to the erasure of the tapes and the provision of edited versions (which were subsequently provided) after acknowledging that they had breached the agreement is of some note about the journalists’ own position in the matter.

 

  1. My contention that the journalists were never coerced into handing over the tapes. It should be noted further that the journalists before then, without prompting, had even promised that they would not use those areas that were outside the agreement.

 

  1. The PAJ noting that TVJ’s newsroom carried a release in which it was stated that the tapes were ‘demanded’ from the journalists and my definitive statement that at no time did I use my position as TVJ Chairman to coerce the journalists into handing over the tapes. They were handed over voluntarily after I requested to them to do so.

It is important to note that the reporter in his account of the circumstances has not substantiated this claim by the PAJ of a demand from me or intimidation by me.

 

 

  1. The conversation I had with the journalists was never, ever acrimonious.

 

  1. In response to PAJ assertions that I stood in conflict with the media house of which I am Chairman and my role to preserve and protect a free press in Jamaica, I reiterated the importance of my duty to protect my clients from circumstances which might prejudice their right to a fair hearing in prospective proceedings.

 

  1. That at all times I acted in my role as counsel. The interview was held at my law office and the journalists at all times knew the capacity in which I acted.

 

  1. I wish to assure that in my role as TVJ Chairman and RJR Board Member for 17 years, I have never once acted in a position to influence their editorial content, even when it relates to my activities in my several other duties.

 

  1. My stating in the meeting that, having regard to what transpired that if the opportunity presented itself again I would behave differently in that either the interview would not have been held at all (which was my original position) or, in respect of the tapes, I would not have requested them of the journalists but instead would have protested my concerns to their supervising editors.

 

  1. The acceptance of the PAJ that much work needs to be done on its side in educating journalists about not only their rights but also their responsibilities was clearly stated and accepted.

 

  1. My raising a concern that the PAJ’s draft Code of Practice allows the use of deceit to obtain information in the public interest.

 

The meeting, in my view, made considerable progress in tackling issues such as the interpretation of public interest, journalistic integrity, ethics and training, who is a “public person” and media access to public persons, the lawyer/client relationship, perceived intimidation and conflict of interest.

 

During the meeting the question of payola influence was also raised by the PAJ and should be ventilated.

 

It is my view that members of the public would benefit from information and discussion concerning the Draft Code of Practice of the PAJ.

 

I commend both teams – the PAJ team led by Wyvolyn Gager and including Cliff Hughes, Ben Brodie and Roxanne Marr (representing PAJ’s legal counsel, Bert Samuels); and my team led by Patrick Foster, Q.C. and including attorneys-at-law Nigel Jones and Danielle Chai – for a candid, no holds barred and enlightening meeting.

 

Turning now to my obligations as a director of the RJR Communications Group and of TVJ. I have a duty to those companies to attend to their welfare and that of their shareholders. I had and have no desire to see my companies in an untenable position. I have always maintained that leadership must act in the best interest of those it leads and not out of any sense of narrow self interest. I am no exception.

 

Please note therefore that my stating in the meeting with the PAJ, that having regard to what transpired that if the opportunity presented itself again I would behave differently, was an indication of my acknowledgement of the regrettable position this has led to on several fronts. I regret this entire episode and that, while honestly acting in my capacity as legal counsel, there were aspects of those duties which caused questioning and doubt about my commitment to press freedom and to my role to protect the integrity and credibility for the RJR Group. My commitment to press freedom remains rock solid. In relation to the RJR Group, I can confidently state that all stakeholders in our media organisation should have no doubt about my commitment to these media institutions and my vigilance in supporting their integrity, journalistic and otherwise, in the future.

 

As an immediate step – I recused myself from the Board Meetings in the RJR Group this week, to allow for full and frank discussions without my presence or perceived influence. Additionally, I have requested leave from the Board, until the internal processes of RJR are finalized.

 

As soon as the internal processes of RJR are finalized, I will make a final decision along with them and communicate it publicly, in due course.

 

 

Milton J. Samuda

Attorney-at-Law

 Disclosure: I am a member of the Press Association of Jamaica and work for TVJ

 

 

Joint Statement by PAJ and TVJ Chairman Milton Samuda

JOINT STATEMENT FOLLOWING WEEKEND MEETING BETWEEN MILTON SAMUDA AND PAJ REPRESENTATIVES

Kingston, Jamaica: September 01, 2013

Representatives of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) met with Milton Samuda, TVJ Chairman and Attorney at Law, and his team on Saturday August 31, 2013 with a view to resolving outstanding differences concerning the interview with the athletes represented by Mr. Samuda.

Both the PAJ and Mr. Samuda have acknowledged that errors were made by the journalists and Mr. Samuda.

The PAJ reported that the journalists had apologized to their newsrooms and the journalism body for their actions and this was accepted.

Mr. Samuda’s apology at the meeting on Saturday was also accepted by the PAJ.

Both the journalists and the attorney have affirmed that their actions will not be repeated. The regrets have been acknowledged and accepted by all parties.

In relation to the question of payola, both the PAJ and Mr. Samuda are satisfied at this time, that it does not arise in this situation.

The PAJ awaits the outcome of investigations being conducted by the RJR Communications Group.

The journalism body will review its call for Mr. Samuda to resign his position as Chairman of Television Jamaica.

PAJ President,

Jenni Campbell (Miss)

TVJ Chairman,

Milton Samuda

Disclosure: I am a member of the PAJ and work for TVJ

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑