Using or abusing parliamentary privilege?


Friday, June 08, 2018

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Last week, in the Senate, Ruel Reid, minister of education, made disparaging remarks about a private citizen — Dr Franklin Johnston. This caused hurt, distress and continues into this week ( Sunday Observer , June 3, 2018). Reid should be disciplined by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Good values cost nothing, so we always hope leaders are decent — but don't hold your breath.

The public interest here is whether a politician in the Senate may insult, disparage or negatively portray an ordinary citizen with impunity. One day it may be you!

We also feel for Diaspora members who leave jobs abroad to serve their country and are pushed out before time by politicians — as happened when Reid went to education. Are Diaspora leaders asleep or afraid? This is not the first time he's “dissed” Dr Johnston, but this is public, and Senate chairman, the dapper Tom Tavares-Finson spotted his low blow and cried foul! ( The Gleaner, June 2, 2018)

Victims are not able to punish appointed politicians who smear us, as one might an elected Member of Parliament by voting against him. So Holness must protect us from his man. But we may soon have a chance to show Reid what we think of his conduct

Parliamentary privilege is wonderful, but dangerous in venal hands. Recall Helen Suzman undermined apartheid by using it to discuss matters verboten in South Africa to allow journalists to report what she said without them being jailed, and a senator may do this and drag innocent names in the mud. Who protects us?

So why Johnston? We know of a project in which Jamaica College was to do pure science and forensic STEM which was wrecked. St Andrew Technical High School was to do ports and logistics, St Elizabeth Technical High School bauxite and heavy machinery STEM, but Reid opted out.

Class war? But he wants to represent St Ann people.

Not to be self-referential, but Reid compared Johnston with his advisors and should have been the last to do so, as on a knife edge he got the benefit of the doubt and a principal's job. Reid has the files and knows Dr Johnston's contract ended and he left. He knows the ministry did not pay even 50 per cent of his UK salary. How much are present advisors paid; more or less?

Education is becalmed — read Edward Seaga's article of June 3, 2018 in the Sunday Observer — and needs help, so how many education or management experts are among Reid's advisors?

Former Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites is a massive trusted brand in the Diaspora, and Dr Johnston, on holiday here, agreed to serve Jamaica as advisor. Was he fit for the job? Check it: “Senator Reid also explained that salaries paid to advisors/consultants are determined by their terms of reference, years of experience, and qualifications.” ( Sunday Observer op cit; Balford Henry reporting)

Sir, which of your advisors is a Rhodes Scholar? Who has a doctorate? The party implant or the failed politician? Sir, you have the files and know Johnston was a partner in a global accounting firm; worked in Africa, America, Middle East, Europe, Caricom, and as chairman, CEO of business and public bodies. He is also a trained teacher and educator from a working family. Why portray him in a negative?

Some choice of advisors are said to disrespect teachers, parents, students, and bring the ministry into disrepute with foreign partners. Check the cocktail circuit! Who appoints as advisor a principal adjudicated and fired by the same ministry? Check? Breach? Is this a matter for the contractor general to take a look?

Going forward we need change. Prime Minister Holness must see Reid's flawed judgement and lesser-qualified team as a danger to quality education and a turn-off to private sector and/or foreign donors. He must ensure senators don't malign citizens under parliamentary immunity and implement sanctions and victim compensation.

Our Diaspora must also demand protocols to protect its members from reputational, career and financial damage when they come to serve Jamaica, because some are unfairly treated and exit under a cloud. Some will never help Jamaica again! We need the “Patrice Charles effect” in Cabinet — employ the best, regardless! As minister, Thwaites hired Pearnel Charles' daughter, fresh from a failed campaign against his party, to head a major agency as she scored best and performed. But Reid lambasted top-performing St Andrew High School; allegedly tried to dis-appoint school board members — sounds like what old-time people call “carry belly” or is it covertly making mischief?

Senator Reid crossed a red line. He should apologise to Dr Johnston and resign so that his successor may appoint advisors who inspire ministry staff, are respected by overseas donors, and add value to education. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and teaches logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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