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Bunting decries 'two Jamaicas' where the well-connected are shielded from prosecution

Sunday, September 26, 2021

KINGSTON, Jamaica— Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Peter Bunting, has decried what he has described as “two Jamaicas” with two sets of rules being applied depending on a person's status in the society.

Bunting, who is also the Opposition Spokesman on National Security, made the observation as he made his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate on Friday.

He used the occasion to ask about the status of the police investigation into an incident where former Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Floyd Green, one of his advisors and a Jamaica Labour Party councillor were caught on a now viral video at a reported birthday party on a no-movement day breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Green, his advisor Gabrielle Hylton, and councillor in the Kingston and St Andrew Muncipal Corporation, Andrew Bellamy, all resigned their respective positions the day after the video went viral. Prime Minister Andrew Holness indicated that he has asked the Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson, to probe the matter to determine whether there were any breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).

But, that has provided little comfort to Bunting who noted the swiftness with which the police have moved to arrest and charge Jamaicans from poor backgrounds, including, descending on their homes to effect the arrests.

“There are two Jamaicas. One is a beautiful island that is the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. The other is a world of poverty, misery and squalor, with people trying to survive, raise their children in some of the most violent communities in the world and protect them from human predators,” Bunting began his presentation.

He said there are numerous other examples of the two Jamaicas, the haves and the have-nots, and the institutionalised inequality that blights the lives of the have-nots”.

He pointed to a media report citing the double standard that exists in the society, which showed how Dane Mitchell, a resident of Jones Town, who was arrested by police inside his home within a couple hours of his being seen in a social media video directing invectives at the prime minister and indicating his non-compliance with the DRMA Regulations.

“He (Mitchell) was arrested, coerced to apologise, and fined $60,000 for breaches of the DRMA Regulations. On the other hand, the video with the JLP bigwigs (Green and company) flossing and braffing, has been passed from Commissioner, to Deputy Commissioner, to the 'cyber people', apparently on its way to File 13,” Bunting noted.

He warned that “the most effective way to destroy all respect for the rule of law is to make it obvious that the law will only be applied to the poor and powerless. If the elite in this country are filmed boasting about their immunity from the law the people see that our society is both deeply unequal and fundamentally unfair. We cannot then expect them to behave as decent citizens, because they can see their leaders mocking them”.

“How must the over 2,000 persons arrested and charged by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and eventually fined for breaches of the DRMA Regulations feel when they observe this double standard? How must the 40 Jamaicans who were earlier this (last) week, each fined $200,000 by the St Thomas Parish Court for breaches of the DRMA feel?” said Bunting.

He noted that the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding, pointed to this "grave error" when the 2021 amendment bill was being debated in the House of Representatives.

“Because of the defective way in which the Disaster Risk Management Act was amended by the Government in 2021, any breach of the prime minister's DRMA orders is now criminalised and liable to a court fine of up to $1 million. The absence of the promised ticketing system means that the ten levels of fixed amount fines are not in effect, and these DRMA breaches are taken to court,” Bunting outlined.

The Opposition Spokesman pointed out that when JCF was originally formed in 1867 in response to the Morant Bay Rebellion, it was to protect the interests and assets of the landed plantocracy.

“They are, of course, a very different organisation now. But all their efforts to become a fully modern police service are undermined if many Jamaicans are convinced that a century-and-a-half later, the JCF still operates predominantly to serve the interests of the elites (to include the political elites)," the leader of Opposition Business remarked.

He further highlighted that two months after the young Rastafarian woman, Nzinga King, had her hair cut off (allegedly) at the Four Paths Police Station in Clarendon, not only has there been no report from the various investigations, but the Public Defender has been prevented from visiting the station in order to advance her office's investigation of the matter.

“Most recently, the Auditor General has reported on dealings between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and Nutrition Products Limited (NPL). The Auditor General reported that the public body improperly paid $143 million to connected parties, “to eat a food”.

“This too sends a powerful message to the people, that politicians put their friends on public boards that become completely corrupt, used to channel public funds into their own companies and pockets. How can you ask the people to respect the law when they can go to jail for stealing a few dollars, but they see people steal tens of millions of tax dollars and escape all penalty?” Bunting questioned.