KINGSTON, Jamaica – PARLIAMENTARIANS, political groups and members of the general public yesterday (May 11) called for Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s resignation, following his admission that he sanctioned the retaining of a law firm to lobby the US not to further seek extradition of one of his constituents.
According to Caribbean360, Golding made a statement in Parliament on Tuesday in which he sought to make a distinction between his actions as leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the head of government.
The media house noted that after weeks of denying that his government did not hire American law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to intervene in the extradition of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, Golding finally acknowledged that he had “sanctioned the initiative”. He however insisted that it was his party that hired and paid the firm and not the government.
The PM’s revelation of his party’s involvement resulted in strong criticisms from the opposition benches as they called for his resignation.
Former PM and leader of the People’s National Party (PNP) Portia Simpson-Miller called it the “mother of all scandals” and noted that 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.
“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,” Caribbean360 quoted her as saying.
Adding his voice to the issue, PNP Chairman, Robert Pickersgill said that Golding’s admission in Parliament has serious and negative implications for the country’s reputation at home and abroad. He also declared that in the interest of Jamaica and its people, his party would not allow the issue to rest.
Many politically-aligned groups have also called for Golding’s resignation. One such group, the Patriots (the young professional caucus of the PNP), 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.
Another group, PNP Youth Organisation, as stated by Caribbean360, said Golding needs to quit with immediate effect, while the National Democratic Movement (NDM), which Golding once led, said he has “compromised the integrity of the government that he leads and deceived the people of Jamaica”.
The NDM’s General Secretary Michael Williams is quoted as saying, “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.”
Some political analysts on the island also criticised Golding, saying that he had handled the matter poorly and his credibility was being called into question.
Meanwhile, in response to the resignation calls and in support of Golding, Information Minister Daryl Vaz said at a post-Cabine briefing that the PM did what he had to do.
“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.
The Gleaner noted that Vaz when pressed for an explanation regarding Golding’s dramatic change of position, Vaz said that the PM had spoken clearly and he had nothing to add or subtract.
However, when he came under pressure by members of the media on the issue, Vaz sought to make a distinction between the actions of the PM and the government as well as those of the JLP of which he is leader.
He said that the JLP had already made it clear that the retention of the US law firm was a party issue and as such queries should be directed to party officials.
“I report to you on Cabinet matters as the government’s spokesperson on information; the party has already issued a statement,” he said while adding that the PM had already made the situation clear in Parliament on Tuesday.
The Gleaner quoted him as saying, “The government of Jamaica had no involvement with the dealings of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips. I am not going to sit here and deal with internal party issues.”
The Gleaner also reported that PM Golding said, “I sanctioned the initiative, knowing that such interventions have in the past proven to be of considerable value in dealing with issues involving the governments of both countries. I made it clear, however, that this was an initiative to be undertaken by the Party, not by or on behalf of the government.”
“A payment of US$49,892.62 was made to Manatt, Phelps & Phillips on September 18th 2009. These funds were sourced from financial contributors to the Party. Rumours and speculation carried in the media that these funds were provided by Christopher Coke are completely false as the Party is fully aware of the source of these funds,” he added.
Christopher Michael Coke, who is a member of the JLP stronghold of West Kingston, is wanted on gun and drug charges in the US. And in addition to Dudus, Coke is also known as Paul Christopher Scott, Presi, General, President and Shortman to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (USDEA).
John P. Gilbride, Special Agent-in-Charge of the USDEA’s New York Field Division; Javier F. Peña, Special Agent-in-Charge of DEA’s Caribbean Division; and Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced on Friday, August 28, 2009 that charges were unsealed against Coke.
According to a DEA press release dated August 28, 2009, Coke was charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms. The United States has formally requested through diplomatic channels that Jamaican authorities arrest Coke and extradite him to the Southern District of New York on the U.S. charges.
It further read, “Coke leads an international criminal organization known as the “Shower Posse”, with members in Jamaica, the United States, and other countries - which he has led since the early 1990s. At Coke’s direction and under his protection, members of his criminal organization sell marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere, and send the narcotics proceeds back to Coke and his co-conspirators. Coke and his co-conspirators also arm their organization with illegally trafficked firearms. Coke has been named by the U.S. Department of Justice to the list of Consolidated Priority Organization Targets “CPOTs”), which includes the world’s most dangerous narcotics kingpins.