Mr. Phillip Paulwell
Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives
Dear Mr. Paulwell:
We write you in your capacity as Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives to express our deep concern at the decision by the Internal and External Committee of Parliament to exclude members of the media from the question and answer session with Police Commissioner Dr. Carl Williams, who appeared before the Committee on Tuesday, November 10, 2015.
We note, with even greater concern, that the original suggestion before the Committee was for the entire session with the Police Commissioner to take place in camera. The compromise position arrived at was for his scripted, prepared presentation to be made in public while he was questioned by the Committee in private. As you are aware, it is during the question and answer session that many important issues are raised and answered, and as such, where the substantive issues are often revealed to the public.
We regard Tuesday’s barring of the media as an unacceptable exclusion of the press, and by extension the public, from a matter of huge national interest, with no justifiable reason.
We reject the notion that the exclusion of the press, and by extension the public, from the proceedings was necessary in the interests of national security. Former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington appeared before the Committee in 2013 without any such restrictions. In addition, the serious state of crime in Jamaica at this time requires that the top government official responsible for crime fighting be accountable to the people through the country’s Parliament.
If by any remote chance any questions arose too sensitive to be adequately answered in public, we believe the Police Commissioner would be quite capable of responding appropriately. We do not believe the proper approach could possibly be for Parliamentarians to seek to anticipate a situation which may or may not have arisen, and then take the draconian route of barring the media, and by extension the public, as their way of dealing with a situation which ought properly to have been handled by the Police Commissioner himself.
We note as well that it was the Government Members on the Committee who pushed for this exclusion, and we request therefore, that you share our letter and concerns with all your colleague Members in the House, as our concerns have general application.
Jamaica has made great strides in opening up the procedures in Parliament to public scrutiny. We sincerely hope this unfortunate incident is the last of its kind.
Dionne Jackson Miller (Mrs.)