The case of alleged domestic abuse involving Jamaican member of parliament (MP) for Central Westmoreland George Wright has brought into sharp focus the need for a law in Jamaica to impeach and remove elected officials.
Last week, Jamaicans at home and across the diaspora expressed shock at a viral video, which captured a man beating a woman with his fists and a stool. It was later disclosed that The man in the video was alleged to be Wright, a Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) MP.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force initially identified Wright as the man in the video, but later backtracked, stating that further investigation was required.
Following the launch of an investigation into the video, the JLP released a statement, saying they have urged Wright to turn himself in to the police. The JLP then said there is no place in the party for any individual who abuses anyone, especially women.
The outcry among Jamaicans home and abroad was especially loud, because of several recent incidents, some tragic, involving violent abuse against Jamaican women.
After facing pressure from Jamaicans and several opposition members of parliament, including Shadow Minister of Gender Affairs and Justice Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, who called on Wright to resign, the JLP subsequently announced that the embattled MP would be removed from the Government Parliamentary Caucus and would take a leave of absence.
But the majority of Jamaican women are not satisfied. Most are upset that the Jamaican Constabulary Force also closed the case claiming they have no alternative since neither Wright nor the woman in the video has shown a willingness to cooperate in the investigations.
Inciting the controversy is that some people believe the governing party’s actions are not strong enough, especially in light of the increase in violence against women.
“I understand the prime minister cannot remove Wright from representing the constituency since he was elected by the voters, but Holness could be more adamant in condemning Wright’s action as [an] MP. He should be barred from sitting in parliament indefinitely,” said Sarah Robinson, a Jamaican-American living in South Florida.
Currently, there is an initiative underway for Jamaicans, including those in the diaspora to sign an online petition seeking Wright to resign his seat in parliament.
While not directly addressing the situation surrounding Wright, Jamaica’s former JLP leader and Prime Minister Bruce Golding called on Jamaicans to force the Andrew Holness-led administration to retable impeachment legislation.
Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body initiates charges against a public official, including a parliamentarian, for misconduct, which could lead to their removal from office. Under Jamaica’s constitution, an MP can only be removed if they resign voluntarily or if they are voted out.
“It is going to be important for the public to let its voice be heard …; it deals with holding public officials to account and, therefore, it’s a question of how much public support can be generated around it,” Golding told The Gleaner.
During Golding’s tenure as prime minister, then-Justice Minister Delroy Chuck laid a bill in Parliament in 2011 to allow for the impeachment of public officials. When current Prime Minister Andrew Holness replaced Golding in 2011, the legislation fell off the agenda and the proposal was never reintroduced.
Golding has urged Holness to consider passing the legislation like he promised to do years ago.
“I don’t know whether there has been any rethinking, but I certainly believe that it is something that ought to be revisited. It is something that applies to senior officials of government, both elected and non-elected,” Golding said.
The Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) has also called for the government to fast-track impeachment legislation. JAMP says that Jamaicans should not be held to ransom by parliamentarians who are unfit to hold public office.