THE highly anticipated Commission of Enquiry into the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips/Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke affair, which has dogged the Bruce Golding administration since last year, will start on Wednesday a senior Government official told the Observer.
“The commission is to start sittings on December 1,” the official said, adding that the enquiry will be held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston and is scheduled to run for three months.
A detailed notice about the commission’s sitting is expected to be published soon.
But although the date for the start has been set, the salaries of the commissioners — Queen’s Counsel Emil George (chairman); Anthony Irons, a retired permanent secretary; and Queen’s Counsel Donald Scharschmidt — have not yet been settled.
“The commissioners’ salaries are still being negotiated with the Ministry of Finance,” the senior Government official said.
Any delay would not be helpful to the scandal-plagued Golding administration, which is said to be eagerly anticipating the resolution of the matter so that it can fully focus on trying to achieve some of its set goals ahead of the next general election constitutionally due in 2012.
The Manatt/’Dudus’ scandal that had sparked great public outcry against the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has already pushed the prime minister earlier this year to consider tendering his resignation. But the party’s Central Executive voted unanimously for him to stay on as leader of the JLP and as prime minister.
The issue had also strained the otherwise friendly relationship between Kingston and Washington.
Speaking earlier this month at an area council meeting ahead of his party’s 67th general conference two Sundays ago, Golding listed the Manatt/’Dudus’ affair as one of the issues that has hampered the Government in what he described as a turbulent year.
The affair was set in train after the Golding administration decided to challenge a request by the United States in September 2009 for the extradition of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, then the reputed ‘Don’ of the JLP-aligned Tivoli Gardens community. Coke is awaiting trial on drugs and gun-running charges in New York, USA where he has since been extradited to.
As the stand-off dragged on, running into 2010, the US-based law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips was hired to lobby Washington on the request. Golding said in May that he had sanctioned the initiative but said that the hiring was on behalf of the JLP and not the Government.
At the centre of the controversy is attorney Harold Brady, who was reportedly approached to secure the services of the US law firm.
Golding had announced the Government’s intention to establish the commission in response to pressure from the Opposition People’s National Party and several interest groups and individuals who have been calling for an independent enquiry into both matters.
But even before last month’s announcement by the prime minister that there would be an enquiry into the Manatt/’Dudus’ extradition saga, opponents were already questioning the wisdom of such a move, which will cost taxpayers a hefty sum, in light of the Government’s belt-tightening fiscal measures.
Still, others say that the enquiry would be a waste of money, as nothing fruitful would come from the sittings.
The Government and Opposition have since been engaged in a war of words over the administration’s naming of the commissioners, with the Opposition saying that the Golding administration had not consulted with it.