To Witter to who? West Kingston Commission of Enquiry pre-Christmas game show

Earl Witter was Jamaica’s Public Defender during the government’s attempts to arrest and extradite Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke in May 2010. He left that office in April 2014.

He’s nothing if not a consummate legal practicioner: he knows the legal system well from deep in the trenches. He used all its wiles and cited his extensive experience and referred to his voluminous law library in almost taking over the Commission of Enquiry (COE). He was determined to not play by the Commission’s rules and used his legal weight to push around the counsels and the Commissioners. How else could one explain how he repeatedly refused to answer questions, as directed (“Just yes or no”, he was told often, but chose to give long and elaborate replies, to set them “in context”) without much sanction, or to ask questions when others had been told firmly before that this was not the role of witnesses? As I saw it, he gamed the system, putting lawyers on the back foot and forcing them to bowl better line and length, to use the kind of metaphor the Commission chair likes. Some times, he just padded balls but then swung wildly for the fences, for instance, asking Peter Champagnie to list the “more ways than one” in which he had been tardy in the discharge of his function as PD. 

Perhaps, it was just good old deference. But, even so, it flags again how the COE is tilted against ‘ordinary’ citizens. 

Mr. Witter is also nothing if painfully slow in most of what he does, and that included how he gives answers and has little idea of how to be brief. He would rarely answer without refreshing his memory by reading from his report. Ironic that lawyers who handle briefs all the time have so little notion of the great gift of brevity. But, again, it’s easy to see as a ploy. He would often intersperse his replies with long silences, as he reflected on the answer he would give. Or, he would insist on answering a question over which he’d pondered awhile, but by then counsel had decided to move on to other matters, and the answer came anyway. All of this dragged out his time at the COE. Necessarily so? Not, in my view. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 7.04.01 PM
Earl Witter, former Public Defender testifies during his 3rd day at West Kingston Commission of Enquiry (Photo credit, Jamaica News Network)
Mr. Witter has also been at pains
during his time on the stand 
to give his overarching view of how to improve Jamaican society, with his ‘One Love’ proposals for the nation. Kumbaya?

Oddly, that ‘oneloveism’ disappeared often and quickly as he jousted with fellow lawyers. He bridled at how the press had misrepresented him and took offense when Linton Gordon JDF responded in support of them, asking if Mr. Gordon held a brief for The Gleaner. Shrewdly, the next day Mr. Gordon alleged he’d been called by several people to check on that and how he’d been embarrassed. Mr Witter only took a bit of the bait, saying that he thought he’d said “the media”. Mr. Gordon defused things a little by hoping the charge was in jest, but stating “I hold no brief for the media!” 

On the matter of what we each hear and see, Mr. Witter played the ultimate shots by arguing that he’d not be surprised that someone who toured West Kingston with him might have heard gunfire when he didn’t or not see dead bodies he’d seen. He saw with his “own eyes” and heard with his “own ears”. OKAY?🤓

Witter had good cause to chastise the media, though, as some sloppy Jamaica Observer reporting this week claimed he’d said 44 people died in Tivoli as a result of extrajudicial killings when Mr Witter was clear that those deaths were alleged to have been so caused—Witter_19240533 He sought to correct that the next morning. I’ve not seen a correction yet by the Observer.  

Amidst the sparring, we got some insights into the internal governance tensions currently and then playing out in Jamaica. Inter-agency cooperation and collaboration may be little more then lip service at key times. Processes may often get displaced by expediency. Official inaction is costly. At the end of the day, ordinary citizens get the short end of the stick as they can rarely make these things change. 

Dr. Michael Abrahams wrote during the week about why we care little about Tivoli: ‘Many Jamaicans, however, could not care less about the civilians in Tivoli Gardens. One woman I know, who hails from rural Jamaica, told me that “the whole a dem fi dead”. A lady from uptown Kingston, who identifies as a Christian, told me that she has absolutely no problem with what transpired there. Another Kingstonian, a man, informed me, rather nonchalantly, that “the Bible says that there has to be a blood sacrifice”.
There is so much violence in our society that we have become desensitized to stories of murder and mayhem, and unfortunately, for many of us, the lives of some people are worth more than the lives of others, with those of lower socio-economic status being placed at the bottom of the totem pole’

In all his varied views on what happened in May 2010, Mr Witter bore this out. The problem is he also had a chance to do more to redress that, but got caught up in the bureaucratic games, then and now. 


Mixed-up media messaging: pot calling kettle black? 

Perhaps, it’s fitting, at the end of Press Association of Jamaica’s National Journalism Week, that what the media do struck me between the eyes. Yesterday, the Jamaica Observer posted pictures, in its ‘Street scenes’ column/page, of two men allegedly fighting. It captioned them with the headline ‘Fight!’, and the comment ‘What was clear…was that onlookers seemed unwilling to separate the men’.  

The caption both annoyed and puzzled me. I wondered if the photographer was including himself amongst those who did not act. Or, was the implication that, after snapping the pictures, he then leapt in to separate the two men. I looked in the rest of the paper to see if there was a story about ‘Brave pressman breaks up street brawl’; I found none. In that case, I assumed the message was to point a finger at Jamaican society’s indifference, as well as towards Jamaican people’s taste for violent problem-solving. 

A month ago, to the day, the Observer ran an editorial about how we need to care about each other: ‘As the situation now stands, it’s not that Jamaicans who are better off don’t recognise the pitiable plight of so many around them. The trouble is that most would rather not have to bother about it.‘ Well said! I wondered if the photographer had read the piece and had a copy in his wallet.

As many say, quoting Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. I hope my point is clear.

“Grandparents tell the best stories”: Get ready for the Great Thanksgiving Listen

James Kennicott’s life advice for his granddaughter: “Just roll with it.” The two recorded an interview using the StoryCorps app while sitting in an Applebee’s parking lot. StoryCorps’ Dave Isay, the winner of the 2015 TED Prize, wants hundreds of thousands to interview a grandparent over Thanksgiving weekend. Photo: Courtesy of StoryCorps When James Kennicott, now 86, was…

Why is the dog sitting by the gramophone? Election time musak

Say what you will about our PM–and Jamaicans are not well known for not being loud and free with their opinions–she has a way with words. In the space of a few minutes, she showed that her recent bout of laryngitis was well past and she could give the people what they wanted, at full throttle. Sorry, that’s not very delicate, but when the PM speaks it’s often about volume, and that is what often gets the people’s attention–not the deep meaning that could be gleaned by parsing every word.

So, the PM touched on the timing of the election. All ears have been waiting on her every word to know if plans for Aunt Maud to visit for the Christmas break need to be put on hold because she is due to arrive from country on December 15. Others have been scratching their heads because the ideas for the office party and the beach lime were set for the week before mid-month, and the weekend of December 5-6 had been picked. Beer, wine and rum had been ordered, and part-paid. Gladys, in Accounting had ordered the chicken and fish and the promised ‘pig in a box’ was reared and–though he didn’t know it–ready to go. Now, if elections are called for December 8 that would be awkward, because many of the parents would have to figure out whether they would find school closed at the start of the week, and after the partying, the break of a rest in the office may have to be shelved due to having to be home with the children. Now, December 10 would be fine, as the week would be well under way, though again the chance of school disruptions midweek would be a headache.

Cho! Whoever said that elections in December were a good idea?

Now, none of these considerations seemed to be in the PM’s mind. She was looking for inspiration from an outside source to help her decide. Well, it may not be an outside source, but someone close, either in the Cabinet or outside but with clear political or other influence. She’s waiting for when “my master touches me and says ‘My daughter go now’.” Some have taken that as looking for divine or spiritual guidance. You know, Him: the Big Kahuna, in some form. Lord knows, who exactly, she means. Some of our cartoonists have pointed to spiritual help from our African tradition: we obey and we follow Obeah. But the ‘master’ may just be next to her shoulder. If rumour has it right, then the calling of the elections is also in the hands of some of her Cabinet colleagues. One of them is going to give the *filip* that is needed to name the date.

We, the people, sit and wait in awe.

The PM’s image of master did bring to my mind that iconic advert for the recording company, His Master’s Voice. With the PM belting out, in her full-throated manner, it’s an image that could go a long way.

Waiting and listening, patiently? (Courtesy, HMV)
But, the PM would have us believe that it’s not her, but we, who will ring the starting bell (running with her preferred analogies from horse racing–and ignoring the awkwardness of ‘The Bell’ being their symbol): “The election is not just about me. The election is about you the people.” Well, if that’s the case, let’s just get it over with.

Few people are interested in, or able to discern, policy differences. Many will say, you know what you’re going to get if the current administration continues, but it’s an uncertain bag of tricks if the Opposition wins. That’s not science, but sentiment, and that matters a lot. It matters much to business people, and like it or not, they are an important pillar.

Will a change of government lead to the addressing of the many evident weaknesses in the country’s social and physical fabric? Are these things that are amenable to different political stripe, or more driven by what people think and believe about themselves and their country and their countrymen?

All that said, I think people want to get the voting over and done with, largely because they’ve been primed to think it will be over and done with before the oven in opened and the turkey (or chicken, or fish back stew) is done. I’m personally not convinced that it will be done this year, but that’s just my musing.



Listen to the Voices of our Senior Citizens on Climate Change

A wonderfully clear and simple eye-opener written by fellow blogger and community activist, Emma Lewis.


How are our seniors doing? It’s a question that perhaps we don’t ask ourselves often enough, in the context of climate change. Like other vulnerable populations, our senior citizens are not necessarily outspoken. They don’t come out and shout about how the tides of change are affecting their daily lives. Moreover, the field of climate […]

#theonlinemind: Some take aways from the first Caribbean Digital Publishing Conference 

An audience of publishers, editors, writers, actors, producers of audio books, educators, librarians and more, met during November 3-5 at first Caribbean Digital Publishing Conference, held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, Kingston, to discuss the nexus between print and digital publishing. It wasn’t possible for one person to cover all sessions, and I focused on some plenaries, which included sessions on ‘the impact of digital technology on the publishing industry’ and ‘international copyright protection in the digital era’. Small group discussions I attended focused on topics such as ‘policing digital piracy’ in the Caribbean; ‘collective management & facilitating access in a changing digital environment’; ‘is digital publishing print’s best friend?’; and ‘digital disruption: how do I manage all this without going crazy or broke?’

I had a few key takeaways from the many speakers and the lively discussions.

Publication industry players need to adapt to developments in their sectors, but some deaths will occur. This is a normal economic process. I’m not sure that one needs to be dramatically surprised at any developments, even Amazon opening a physical bookstore, as they just have. Books and printed material aren’t going anywhere fast. Not least because a strong emotional connection with printed material still exists, even if it is generational. Like with fashions or writing with pens, less love for print now may just be a pause for its resurgence.

Social media are forcing many trends and they are not all obvious or easy to capture. People like interacting, and that may be the saviour of many things printed. Online community reading may be one way that digital is supporting print.

No one can really forecast the future well, but it’s useful to pose good questions. One is ‘Are the publishing demands of Millenials well understood?‘ This group has significant buying power and seems to be fickle in what it wants, and when.

People have gotten used to many choices. That, too, may save print because many people want different formats and each format has its merits. I had a Kindle, but I gave it to one of my older children when I got a smart phone and the Kindle app. I travel a lot and weight is important: one e-reader loaded with material saves many a sore back and arms. People who have no or limited access to printed material can be much better served and at lower cost through e-readers (notwithstanding the need to create power supplies and maybe Internet access, but the marginal cost of that is falling).

My wife loves to read and loves to buy books, but she lives in a bureaucratic world where printed document circulation is just inefficient, so material is in electronic form (links, PDFs, word-processed), which can be distributed to all instantaneously and weightlessly.

I have a visitor who told me that she keeps a hand-written journal that she shares with friends as a PDF and may one day bind as a book. She sent emails to her friends and patients in Canada to tell of her safe arrival last night, not a written letter to each, that needed to be mailed from the local post office in Jamaica, which happened to be closed at the time 🙂

Those examples just go to show how people will work with the various choices. But, the choices reflect a very competitive space. Competition means money to be made, legally and illegally (NB nearly 25% of global bandwith is use for digital piracy). Check the graphics.

Slide produced by George Walkley, Head of Digital, Hachette, UK
Slide produced by George Walkley, Head of Digital, Hachette, UK

Climate change may drive choices. The desire to save trees may have more impact on the book industry than the desire to reduce carbon footprints has on reducing use of electronic devices.

Many financial considerations may drive successes and failure. Just two thoughts to provoke more questions.

First, one copyright litigator did not have an answer to my question about how the authentication and payment processes for intellectual property rights would deny scammers filching the money with, say, a phony ‘pay wall’ at the access points. You think you paid and have the right? The owner says “No way!’ The scammer adds to his or her collection of bling and cha-ching-ching.

Second, how good are intellectual property (IP) assets? If financial institutions can now take IP assets as collateral for loans that’s only a possible way for financing to get to say musicians and writers. Banks aren’t obliged to take such assets. If I offer a building or some tangible assets, the assessment of its worth is less contentious than if I offer my IP rights. More broadly, who other than a financial institution–who can create ways of making many things smell sweet–would take IP rights in exchange for other assets? That’s a bottom line question. Go to a poker table and you may be able to get more chips with the keys to your car or house, but what about your IP rights?

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