Tivoli Commission of Enquiry: Confusion in early proceedings

This is a strange creature, coming out of the Commission of Enquiry Act and its Amendment. On its face, its function seems very simple. Broadly put, it’s trying to examine the situation and circumstances that preceded the police – military operations of May 2010 in Tivoli, what happened during, including allegations of abuse by those undertaking the operations.

However, it cannot be so simple, given what the episode under investigation means to Jamaica, especially those in the Tivoli community. It’s also not simple because the organs of the state that are charged with protection of it and its citizens were pitted against those citizens.

Much time has passed. Memories will have faded, though some things may be seared into people’s minds. People in the community have unresolved issues. They also have deep-seated suspicions and distrust of those security services.

Many things will play out. Some of them made appearances yesterday on day 1. They are potentially contentious issues that could be resolved, but that would then open up consequences that might not have been foreseen.

One thing that comes over clearly is that the apparatus of the state is not seen with unreserved reverence by many in Tivoli. That opens an immediate tension in the Commission’s proceedings, where it can easily be claimed that it’s the state versus the people.

Lloyd D’Aguilar, who convenes the Tivoli Committee, was quick to play this card in several ways on day 1. Notably, he sought to claim that the Commission was a ‘white wash’. Many would see that as a prejudiced view.

He also posed a problem for the proceedings. They have set up to give attorneys a prime place in the proceedings, acting as counsel for all parties. However, there’s no clear logic for this. The Commission is not a court and the proceedings are not a trial. Lawyers have a special training in the application of laws, but are one of several professional groups who could handle enquiries. Thus point is evident to D’Aguilar, who sees the practice as an attempt to margianlise others.

However, the Commission has not yet conceded this point. It’s not hard to accept, given that it’s not presided over by legal professionals; only its head has that status, being a judge.

But, it means there’s a disconnect because the attorneys want to protect their status from any challenge.

D’Aguilar took his position a bit further today by stating that the Commission chair was a “political hack”. For that and not accepting that he should let an attorney speak for him he got ejected from proceedings.

The confusion over the status of lawyers is wider. They also seem to want to turn the enquiry into trial proceedings by asking questions or adopting tones that suggest something, often a lie. Most ordinary people will take offence at this, and so it’s happening.

Some of the implied incredulity reflects different worlds or social circles. The expectations that in a world of wide media coverage people know all that’s reported is false but prevailing.

Right now, the live TV coverage let’s us experience the raw clash of emotions that come from different visions of the process, different social outlooks, different professional positions, and more.

It also lets us see a situation evolve that needed more time to start properly but is now underway.

Confusion will occur often, I suspect, in coming days. Tempers will become frayed and accusations will fly.

The truth? Well, for that we have to hope and pray.