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Politics and morality

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Fri, May 21, 2010

Several weeks ago, a former government Minister in Jamaica gave a public warning of the possible influence of the drug trade on politics in the Caribbean. He raised concerns about influence-peddling by drug barons in the form of funding of political campaigns and its dire implications for democracy and the rule of law in the Caribbean.{{more}}

Worrying signs are emerging that he may just be right and that the region has a problem on its hands which threatens to undo the hard work put in over the ages to institute democratic practices in our politics and system of governance. In country after country, serious allegations have been made about possible links of prominent political figures with persons alleged to be involved with illegal activities. While these are yet to be proven in a court of law, they do irreparable damage to the credibility of our political system. Of great concern, too, is the fact that senior law-enforcement officers are also being similarly accused.

The latest of these scandals and controversies is raging in Jamaica, which has earned a reputation as a drug transhipment centre to the lucrative US market. In that country, none other than its prime minister, Bruce Golding, is under huge pressure to resign after admitting his involvement in defence of a man whom US authorities are seeking to have extradited to the USA on drug-trafficking charges. The matter brought about a diplomatic rift between the governments of both countries after the Golding administration refused the extradition request. In turn, the US government has been placing pressure on Jamaica by turning down applications by many Jamaicans for visas, including several leading artistes, top foreign-exchange earners for their country.

Under pressure, PM Golding had softened his stance and agreed to let the matter be settled by the courts. Now, it has emerged that he has had a hand in efforts to seek top legal counsel for the accused person. It has caused a huge public outcry for his resignation. A Prime Minister seeking legal counsel for a man facing extradition on drug-trafficking charges? Golding has sought to clear the air and ward off public criticism by admitting his involvement, but saying that he did so, not in his capacity as Prime Minister, but as Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party.

His sleight-of-hand, separation of powers, has made little difference to the call for him to demit office. He has now been forced to apologise and to accede to the extradition request. But as the controversy rages, one can only wonder what is it that makes normally rational and sensible people like Golding, get themselves in such a tangle? What could make a leader so oblivious to the huge political risks in jeopardizing his country’s reputation and future by such reckless involvement? For whatever the facts of the matter, no prime minister should ever be in that position. You cannot exercise moral leadership if there is public perception that you are linked to such an unsavoury situation. Whether the accused is found guilty or not, whether Golding did what he did in defence of a political supporter or simply a Jamaican national, the office of the prime minister should never be dragged through such murky waters.

It is a situation which has bearing for the rest of the region as well. Our embattled Caribbean, already facing many threats to our survival, cannot afford such scandals. They do irreparable harm to our good name. We must cut this cancer out of our body politic.

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