Cleaning up the Manatt mess

GOLDING... composition of the commission and the terms of reference will be made public shortly

Jamaica: PM yields to pressure for commission of enquiry into ‘Dudus’ affair

THE Government yesterday yielded to the politically costly battering over its handling of the Christopher Coke/Manatt, Phelps and Phillips episode, saying yes to a commission of enquiry.

At the same time, the Bruce Golding administration agreed to a request from the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) to include it in the construction of the terms of reference and the composition of the commission of enquiry.

Prime Minister Golding, in a brief statement to Parliament, announced the proposal to set up the commission, apparently after sustained pressure from civil society groups and the Opposition, for him to come clean on the circumstances leading to the extradition of former Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and the subsequent controversy over the engagement of the United States law firm, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips.

He said the composition of the commission and the terms of reference would be made public shortly.

For a tense moment when it seemed that the House would descend into chaos, with shouts of discontent from the Opposition benches that the prime minister’s statement was ‘ambiguous’, MP Dr Peter Phillips — who was the first to bring the Government’s involvement with the firm to the attention of the Parliament in March of this year and also to call for a commission of enquiry into the matter — sought clarity.

It was the party’s understanding, he said, that the terms of reference and composition of the Commission would have been discussed with the Opposition. Golding responded that while he did not recall any such undertaking, the Government would go that route.

Welcoming the decision, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller said: “It is a call that has been consistently made by the Opposition, so that the public may be made fully aware of what in fact took place. I look forward to the meaningful consultation that is necessary to arrive at the membership of the commission and the fashioning of the terms of reference which would be critical to ferreting out the real truth of all the issues involved.”

In a statement after the announcement, Simpson Miller said this was “an episode in our history which caused untold damage to Jamaica’s reputation among the community of nations and real pain, anguish and anxiety to our citizens at home and abroad”.

She added: “Today’s announcement by the prime minister is therefore a significant first step on the long road to reposition Jamaica in the eyes of the world as a country where the rule of law is paramount.”

And the Patriots — the caucus of young professionals aligned to the PNP — yesterday congratulated civil society organisations, interest groups and the PNP itself for what it said was “their collective insistence in calling on the Government to establish a commission of enquiry into the fiasco that attended the extradition request for Christopher Coke”.

“This is a victory for the people of Jamaica,” the group said.

Prior to an admission by Golding in May this year that he had sanctioned the initiative, the Government had insisted that no arrangement was reached between itself and the firm. It, however, said that solicitor general Douglas Leys met with representatives of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips at the invitation of attorney-at-law Harold Brady but merely for “exploratory discussions” contrary to what the firm said. It also said that any money which had changed hands was through a link between Brady and the firm.

The matter of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ involvement emerged following attempts by the US government to have Coke extradited, and subsequent efforts by the Jamaican Government to delay the process, citing several reasons, among them the illegal gathering of information by US authorities in respect of the extradition request.

Coke was captured in June and flown to the US to face drug-trafficking and gun-related charges, after he waived his right to an extradition hearing in Jamaica.

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