Golding admission prompts resignation calls

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thursday May 13, 2010 – Calls for Prime Minister Bruce Golding to resign came from all across Jamaica yesterday – from the parliament to political associations to the streets – after his admission that he sanctioned the hiring of a law firm to lobby the US not push for the extradition of one of his constituents wanted on gun and drug charges.

The voices of those who believed the Prime Minister had deceived the country on the matter, instead of admitting his involvement from the outset, were loud as they called on him to step aside.

In a statement in Parliament on Wednesday, Golding sought to make a distinction between his actions as leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the head of government. After weeks of saying that his government had not hired American law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to intervene in the matter of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, Golding finally acknowledged that he had “sanctioned the initiative”. However, he insisted that it was his party that hired and paid the firm and not the government. 

But for the People’s National Party (PNP), the National Democratic Movement (NDM) – formed in 1995 by Golding –, and several others, the explanation is not cutting it.

PNP leader Portia Simpson-Miller has called it the “Mother of all Scandals” and says the government has lost its credibility.

“The prime minister’s admission that he sanctioned a scheme to circumvent the role of the Government of Jamaica to resolve a treaty dispute with the government of the United States of America and normal diplomatic channels has brought the Government into disrepute,” she said.

“The prime minister’s behaviour is disgraceful, outrageous, and out of step with the norms of prime ministerial behaviour and decorum in any democracy in general, and the Westminster system in particular.”

She added in a press statement that the Opposition has lost confidence in the Golding adminisration and now cannot trust anything that the prime minister or his government says.

PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill added that Golding’s admission in parliament has serious and negative implications for the country’s reputation at home and abroad.

“And in the interest of Jamaica and its people, we will not allow it to rest,” he insisted.

Groups, citizens, join the call

Groups aligned to the opposition – like the young professional caucus of the PNP, the Patriots, and PNP Youth Organisation (PNPYO) – joined in the resignation call that grew louder as the day progressed. Callers to local radio shows and several Jamaicans interviewed by the media also indicated they want to see the back of Golding because of his handling of the matter.

The Patriots said Golding’s resignation was warranted because of his “inability to create a safe distance” between his office as prime minister and his position as JLP leader and MP for the West Kingston constituency where Coke resides; while a “disgusted” PNPYO said he needed to quit with immediate effect.

The NDM called for Golding to tender his resignation because he has “compromised the integrity of the Government that he leads and deceived the people of Jamaica”. If he doesn’t go, the party’s General Secretary Michael Williams said in a statement, the JLP members sitting in the Cabinet and Senate should.

“The members of the Cabinet and the Senate, especially those former members of the NDM, should be particularly ashamed and should walk away if Golding refuses to do the honourable thing. Their failure to do so would make them complicit in misleading the country,” Williams said.

Some political analysts also criticised Golding, saying that he had handled the matter poorly and his credibility was being called into question.

Golding silent, Vaz defends

From the JLP camp have come statements of support for the Prime Minister from Information Minister Daryl Vaz. Speaking at the usual post-Cabinet press briefing, he dismissed the resignation calls.

“As far as I’m concerned, the prime minister did what he had to do, and the fact is that those who are calling for the prime minister to resign and for the Government to resign have no moral authority to call for anybody to resign based on their past and their history,” he said.

Vaz is also the JLP’s treasurer but said he would not necessarily know who paid the almost US$50,000 to Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

He was pressed to give more details on the decision to hire the firm but insisted that he was not the person to address those issues.

“You have a general secretary of the party and that is where the matter has been put, and I suggest you pose those questions to the party,” Vaz told members of the media.

In the midst of all the uproar, though, Golding has remained mostly silent.

Questioned by members of the media at his tour of a cruise shipping pier under construction in Falmouth, the capital of the parish of Trelawny, Golding would only say: “I have spoken intensively on the issue in Parliament. I have no further comment”, before rushing off.

The Prime Minister has been strongly resisting the attempt to extradite Coke on the grounds that wire-tap evidence gathered by the US authorities in their case against him was illegally obtained.

He told Parliament on Tuesday that although his government had written to the US authorities back in September 2009 requesting additional or separate information that would enable Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne to sign the authorization to proceed with the extradition request, the US has “steadfastly refused to do so”.

However, he insisted that his government would facilitate the extradition of any Jamaican citizen wanted to stand trial for extraditable offences once the obligations under the Treaty are met. 

“Christopher Coke is wanted for an alleged crime in the US for which he ought to be tried and the government of Jamaica, consistent with its obligations under the Treaty, will do everything necessary to facilitate his extradition once it is done in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty and the laws of our country,” Golding told the Parliament.