West Kingston Commission of Enquiry: Trust in me…please

Those who have been following the enquiry might have been struck by several disturbing trends across the institutions of the State. I’ll list some of those that seem to recur, and did not seem to have troubled those who practised them during the May 2010 operations, and seem to be readily defended, in the face of questioning, so far.

Communication deficit. From the former PM, through his Cabinet minsters, through Chiefs of the JCF and JDF, we have heard how senior policy making individuals assumed important information would be shared, yet did little or nothing to check if that were the case by informing others themselves, or by assessing if the assumed information had actually been shared. The willingness to assume seemed to be so high. Few, if any, of these powerful people seemed concerned by the cost, potential and actual, of their assumptions being wrong. 

Add to that what we have heard from those lower down the ranks, so far, that they were often not informed of key policy decisions, and one does not really have to wonder why the operation did not end as a rip-roaring success, despite some officials saying it was successful. The ultimate objective, of apprehending Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, was not achieved by the operation. In the process, however, more than 70 people were killed, much property damaged, and a community’s sense of assurance shifted on many levels.  

Credibility gaps. I’m at a total loss how the chief of defence staff could order the use of mortar rounds (37) and not inform his commanders on the ground of this intention. Several lawyers also find this point lacking in credibility. Yet, the willingness of a ground commander to hold to that view points to a level of trust in decision-making that is admirable, if it is well-placed. Soldiers take orders and carry them out will less resistance than many other functionaries, even when their lives seem compromised by those orders.

This is just the latest in testimonies that push the bounds of believability. Some of the doubts have been expressed by lawyers in their cross-examination. The Commission chair has also flagged that other aspects of credibility will be in the final report, notably the inconsistencies in the alleged timing of when operations were launched. Clearly, the start might not have been like the kick off of a football match, with everyone knowing that there is a single start time. But, for the impression to be that several hours of discrepancy could exist is worrying. It blurs the stories of alleged abuses if it can be shown that security personnel could have been active at times earlier than some of them claimed. 

Treating Dudus like a dummy. The piece of the puzzle that’s bothered me a lot recently is how a known ‘bad man’, who was thought of as a threat to the State, even running a ‘parallel government’ within Tivoli Gardens, who also ran operations with international criminal links and was involved in more sophisticated lines of illegal operations, was somehow treated like a bumbling numbskull. By that, I mean, how could it be assumed that with all of the connivance that such dealings must have needed, it was somehow acceptable to think that he’d be there ‘twiddling his thumbs’ while the organs of the State were close on his tail. He hadn’t managed to become ‘Prezi’ or ‘The President’ because he’d won a few games of marbles or jacks. His gang was known and feared for what it could do and had done, including offer safe harbour for other gangsters and criminals. JCF and JDF officers talked confidently about how they had ‘intelligence’ on Dudus’ operations, but seemed blasé about the possibility that he could and would have even better intelligence on their activities, not least because he did not have to play or seem to play by the rules. He’d been at least a step ahead for years. Why would he suddenly lose that advantage? 

What the Enquiry is showing is a story that doesn’t hang together the way officials want to tell it. How obvious that is is indicated by the speed with which the attorneys for the official agencies jump to defend their image. Flaws were known, but now they keep getting scratched. Like sores, they’re opening up and not looking pretty. 

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)