My fellow Jamaicans..I have spent the last several days in deep contemplation about the issues that have caused so much anxiety throughout the society including the reaction to my statement in Parliament last Tuesday and the events and circumstances that led up to it.
I have listened very carefully to the views expressed by members of the public. I have also consulted with my Cabinet and parliamentary members, the party organization and various civil society groups. I thank those who have expressed their support and have urged me to find a way to deal with these matters and to put them behind. I respect the views of those who feel that, in the circumstances, I should step aside.
I have asked God to guide me in my response and the decisions I must make. I regret the entire affair and it has been deeply painful for me, members of my family and you who have been hurt and disappointed.
In hindsight, the party should never have become involved in the way that it did and I should never have allowed it but I must accept responsibility for it and express my remorse to the nation.
The way in which this matter has been handled has raised the question of trust. Several persons and organizations have expressed their disappointment. I should not have been surprised because I had raised the bar as to what they should expect of me and what has transpired has fallen short of their expectations. And here I want to personally thank the wide cross section of persons who took the trouble to write to me, not all complimentary but all expressing the deep anguish that they experienced over what had transpired. Others have offered their prayers and to all I am deeply grateful.
I am aware that trust can only be restored by forgiveness and atonement. That will take time and I am committing myself to do everything that is humanly possible to repair the damage that has been done to that trust. In return I ask for your forgiveness.
This matter of the extradition has consumed too much of our energies and attention and has led to a virtual paralysis that must be broken.
I crave your understanding, the government has never refused… never refused… the request for the extradition of Christopher Coke. It has simply asked the US authorities to provide additional information that would enable the Minister to issue the authorization in compliance with the terms of the treaty. In the controversy that has ensued, we sought the opinion of one of Jamaica’s most eminent lawyers, Dr. Lloyd Barnett, who advised that the issues involved were not sufficiently settled in law, and therefore the Attorney-General should seek a declaration from the Court before exercising her authority.
I wrestled with the potential conflict between the issues of non-compliance with the terms of the treaty and the unavoidable perception that because Coke is associated with my constituency, the government’s position was politically contrived. I felt that the concepts of fairness and justice should not be sacrificed in order to avoid that perception. In the final analysis, however, that must be weighed against the public mistrust that this matter has evoked and the destabilizing effect it is having on the nation’s business. Accordingly, the Minister of Justice, in consideration of all the factors, will sign the authorization for the extradition process to commence.
The engagement of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips by Mr. Harold Brady was an effort to secure assistance in resolving the stalemate because the party was concerned about the negative effect it was having on relations between Jamaica and the United States. I sanctioned this initiative but made it clear that it was to be kept completely separate from the government. As I later discovered, those instructions were not followed. Having sanctioned it, I cannot escape responsibility for it or the developments that have ensued although I was not myself involved in those activities.
When I was asked in Parliament whether the government had engaged the services of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, I answered truthfully and definitively that it had not done so. It is felt that I should, there and then, have acknowledged the party initiative led by Mr. Brady. On reflection, I should have and tonight I express my profound regret and offer to the Parliament and people of Jamaica my deepest apologies.
It took time for me to make my statement last Tuesday because of the efforts I had to make to find out exactly what had transpired in this Manatt, Phelps & Phillips affair. I felt I had a duty to make that statement and I spoke on the basis of the information that has been presented to me.
The business of the country and the challenges that we have to overcome require that they be tackled with urgency and unquestioned authority. The economic programme that has restored stability after the tumultuous impact of the global recession and is showing early signs of recovery requires firm hands and certain leadership. The transformation of the government to improve the delivery of services despite the budgetary constraints and the stimulation of the investments that are needed to restore the jobs that were lost and create new ones require strong management unfettered by the ghost of the recent ordeal. The worrying crime problem must be confronted with vigour, confidence and determination. The social partnership being built through the Partnership for Transformation to bring a new collaborative and consultative approach to policymaking requires commitment and direction.
Yesterday, I indicated to the Central Executive including my parliamentary members that I was prepared to step aside as Prime Minister. A new Prime Minister would need to be assured of the support of the Party and a Special General Conference would have to be convened to elect a new leader so that a new Prime Minister can be appointed. The offer was rejected and I was asked to reconsider. I know that to continue requires on my part a recommitment to the purposeful change that we had promised.
I thought deeply about it last night and recognized that if I am to continue it cannot be business as usual. We have done well on some fronts but there are issues such as crime and violence to which much more effort and determination will have to be brought. Our legislative programme on which so much of our manifesto commitments were based will have to be renewed. Tough and uncompromising measures to deal with the pervasive crime problem and to stamp out corruption will have to be matters of urgency.
I will be tabling in Parliament the proposals emanating from the Public Sector Transformation Unit for the restructuring of government to invite public comment before a final decision is taken. I intend to transfer some of my portfolio responsibilities to other Ministers to enable me to focus more on the issues that drive change and transformation.
I intend to concentrate much of my efforts on advancing some of the unfinished business of our mandate. In our election manifesto, we committed ourselves to a wide range of political and constitutional reform measures to transform the way politics is conducted and the way government operates, to stamp out corruption and hold public officials to account. Some of these have already been implemented or are at an advanced stage. These include :
. Appointment of a Special Prosecutor to fight corruption
. Whistleblower legislation to aid in fighting crime and corruption
. Independent Commission to investigate abuses by the security forces
. Fiscal responsibility legislation to, among other things, exert control over our fiscal deficit and accumulation of debt.
. Reform of the Libel laws to enable greater transparency and accountability in government
However, having to grapple with the effects of the global recession consumed so much of our energies that we have not been able to move as fast as I would have liked on some important elements of the reform package.
Going forward, I intend to put the following measures on fast track:
. Measures to reverse the institutionalization of political tribalism and garrisons as manifested in many constituencies across political lines including my own constituency, an issue I propose to anchor in the Partnership for Transformation and with a commitment to implement the recommendations.
. Provisions for the impeachment of public officials
. Term limits for the office of Prime Minister
. Vesting constitutional authority in the Contractor-General and Electoral Commission
. Laws to regulate political party financing
. Enacting into law certain provisions of the Political Code of Conduct with appropriate oversight and penalties for violations
. Criminal sanctions for breaches of the award of contracts
. Parliamentary oversight in the appointment of certain statutory positions
I intend, also, to seek parliamentary approval for the anti-crime Bills, the DNA Evidence Act and new criminal gang legislation to strengthen our capacity to fight crime including measures to prevent the award of government contracts to individuals linked to criminal activities.
The nation’s business cannot continue to be disrupted and distracted by the ordeal of the last several months. We must put it behind us and move on and I hope that after tonight we will be able to do so. And we must do so with humility. Our lapses at times into what comes across as arrogance and disrespect must not be allowed to happen, for we are the servants of the people. Again, I express my regret to those who were offended.
There is much that we have to accomplish as a people and many serious challenges that must be overcome but, together, we can make it work and ensure that our people enjoy a better life.
May God continue to bless Jamaica and provide the strength and support we all need.