What should happen when public officials are accused of criminality

Monday, July 23, 2012

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NO one can say with certainty, at this stage, that Montego Bay Deputy Mayor Councillor Michael Troupe will or will not be exonerated when his case goes before the courts. What we can, however, state now is that his lawyers have given him sound advice.

Councillor Troupe, we are told by his attorney Mr Clayton Morgan, has decided to take leave of absence from all party and public offices while he attempts to clear his name of involvement in the infamous St James lottery scam.

Essentially, therefore, Mr Troupe -- pending the outcome of his case -- is taking a break from his positions of deputy mayor, councillor for the Granville Division, member of the National Executive Council of the ruling People's National Party (PNP), and as chairman of the PNP's West Central St James constituency executive.

According to Attorney Morgan, Mr Troupe's co-accused, Councillor Sylvan Reid, who is also a member of the PNP, has given no indication that he plans to take a leave of absence from the St James Parish Council.

Since the arrest of both councillors last week in one of two simultaneous pre-dawn raids by the Lottery Scam Task Force, there have been a number of calls for them to resign from the public offices they hold. We can well understand the thinking that informed those calls, given the serious nature of the lottery scam that has resulted in homicides in Jamaica, destroyed the lives of many senior citizens abroad, and has damaged Jamaica's name internationally.

Add to that the police allegation that an illegal firearm and more than US$10,000 and J$380,000 were found at the deputy mayor's house, and that they seized a number of items, including large television sets from Councillor Reid's home during the raid, and one can see why there would be calls for both councillors to step down.

The court cases will no doubt decide both men's future. For if they are found guilty they will have no choice but to go. And if they're found innocent, then the decision as to whether they return to their elected positions will largely lie with them, their constituents and the PNP.

What is sure, though, is that their arrests do not send a positive signal about politics and politicians in this country. In fact, this episode has worsened the unflattering views already held by many Jamaicans about political representatives.

Those views, we submit, are largely shaped by the behaviour of some public officials and the uneven treatment they receive from the authorities, when compared to the general citizenry, in instances that require the intervention of law enforcers.

Our elected leaders, we believe, would improve confidence in the country's governance arrangements were they to establish a process that would determine the response of public officials to instances such as that now being experienced by councillors Troupe and Reid.

Bearing in mind always that our justice system functions on the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, accused public officials should be required to do as Councillor Troupe has now done -- take a leave of absence while their cases are being dealt with by the authorities. Subsequent to that, any decision about their future should be quite easy.




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