More Pressure

A church leader in western Jamaica emerged as the lone voice of support for embattled parliamentarian George Wright yesterday as three of the country’s powerful interest groups added more weight to calls for his resignation.

Wright, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Westmoreland Central, is the subject of growing controversy over a video showing a man violently assaulting a woman.

Yesterday, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and its member associations, as well as the Jamaica Council of Churches, added their voices to the increasingly louder calls for Wright to pack his bags and go.

“If the allegations regarding the identification of the assailant in the video are true, the Member of Parliament should do the honourable thing and resign his seat in Parliament. We say this even in the knowledge that there has not been a conclusive investigative or court-directed process regarding the identification of the assailant in the video,” said the private sector groups.

But the opposite view has been taken by Bishop Oneil Russell, head of Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity in Savanna-la-Mar, who insisted that the MP should stand his ground.

“If the Jamaica Labour Party decides that he cannot be a part of them any more, and he has to sit as an independent, I will support him as an independent. I love the Jamaica Labour Party, I love them, but if they say Mr Wright has to go, that’s the way I am going also. That’s the way my family have to go also too,” Russell told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

Russell is also president of the Cooke Street Citizens’ Association in Savanna-la-Mar and one of Wright’s constituents.

Wright has neither confirmed nor denied that he is the person seen in the video hitting the woman repeatedly and the police have indicated that, because of a lack of evidence, they have closed their investigation into the matter, even though they had revealed that Wright and businesswoman Tannisha Singh had, on the afternoon of April 6, 2021, both made independent reports of a physical altercation that day.

The JLP has instructed Wright to sit in Parliament as an independent member and has stripped him of all party functions.

According to the private sector groups, “The violent and disgusting viral video recording showing a man assaulting a woman with his hands and with a stool that was circulated in early April is forever seared into the minds of countless Jamaicans.

“The sheer and sustained brutality that was on display was outrageous at first sight. That outrage was exacerbated by the allegation that the perpetrator was a member of the nation’s Parliament.”

The JCC and the PSOJ noted the police report that Wright and Singh had visited separate police stations to make reports, but declined to provide statements, and the videotape was not of a sufficiently high quality to categorically identify those involved. However, the lobby groups said they noted that “the alleged assailant has stepped down from representing his party’s parliamentary caucus and has indicated a desire to remain in Parliament as an independent MP“ and is in the process of applying for leave from Parliament.

But that change in status, however long it is meant to last, does not suffice, the groups said.

“Since at this point the alleged perpetrator has not publicly insisted on his unequivocal innocence to his colleagues and to the police, he is not of the calibre that belongs in Parliament,” said the groups as they endorsed a call by Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal for the reintroduction and inclusion of the Constitution (Amendment) (Impeachment) Bill on the Government’s legislative agenda.

“Our House of Parliament cannot be seen to be delicately manoeuvring between the raindrops on demanding accountability. All Jamaica is watching,” added the PSOJ and the JCC, whose release came hours after a similar call from five advocacy groups.

At the same time, the Jamaica Council of Churches, in a late afternoon release yesterday, said: “The council is of the view that we ought to hold all members of the society, especially leaders, to good moral character and the highest standards of conduct. Our Christian faith calls on us to hold ourselves — individual and corporate — to pursuing conduct, especially in public, which upholds high moral standards and demonstrates good moral character.”

It added: “The scriptures have admonished us with these words: ‘…whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Philippians 4:8, NRSV).

“We therefore call on Mr George Wright to do the honourable, pure and excellent thing and withdraw from the Parliament. We also call on the political directorate to support such an action as a necessary consequence of perpetrating such violence against another human being,” said the church group, which offered to provide counselling to the parliamentarian.

In a release late Sunday evening, Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, National Integrity Action, Jamaicans For Justice, Institute of Law & Economics, and Stand Up For Jamaica issued a demand for Wright’s immediate resignation. The groups argued that the facts from the police and the JLP signalled that an egregious act was committed by the MP and Jamaica has not been granted an explanation for his leave of absence or confirmation if he will still receive a full salary while off the job.

“We, therefore, register deep concern for the lack of transparency in these most serious matters involving a lawmaker and representative of the nation, sworn to act in the interest and for the protection of the people.

“The circumstances have eroded public confidence in Mr Wright’s fitness to serve, have caused serious dismay, outrage and pain, and have left women in particular feeling a deepened sense of a lack of safety and security. His status is untenable,” said the five advocacy groups.

Bishop Russell, in his defence of the MP, said that he doesn’t lose respect for a person who stands accused.

“If I am a friend, I stand as a friend. I am not standing with you because you commit the crime, I am standing with you as a person, as the good steward you are… and he [Wright] is a good steward. He is always ready to work for the people, he is always ready to help the people, he stands out.

“Do not judge him because he made a report, judge him by his character. And if you judge him by his character, then the character will speak for him. He is a man of integrity.”

Bishop Russell argued that, with the police dropping the case because they cannot conclusively identify Wright as the man in the video, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) is pushing to get rid of Wright in an attempt to retake the Westmoreland Central constituency.

“Let me make this clear, the People’s National Party is also pushing this because they believe they can win back this seat. Let me tell you, this seat is already out of their hands, and we are going to work and work that this seat remains with the Jamaica Labour Party,” stated Russell.

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