Inquiry to launch Coke hearings
A hearing will begin in January on which the future of Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding could hinge.
A commission of inquiry will examine Mr Golding and his government's handling of the American extradition request for Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, an alleged drug lord.
In late May May, a hunt for Mr Coke in his Tivoli Gardens stronghold led to a confrontation that killed at least 73 civilians and three security officers.
Mr Golding's popularity suffered in the wake of the execution of the extradition warrant.
Critics have complained that Mr Golding's initial reluctance to hand over Mr Coke gave the suspect and his supporters too much time to prepare for a confrontation in inner-city West Kingston.
The prime minister subsequently gave into pressure for an independent investigation into his administration's role handling of the case.
Terms of reference
The pressure grew after claims that a US-based law firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips was hired to lobby the US government on behalf the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) which had close ties to Mr Coke.
The Chairman of the panel, Queen's Counsel, Emil George, has now set the start date for the hearing of testimony for 17 January.
The commission's official terms of reference are:
- to enquire into the issues relating to the extradition request for Mr Coke by the US
- the manner and procedure in which the government and various public officials handled the extradition request
- the circumstances in which Manatt, Phelps and Phillips was engaged, by whom were they engaged, and on whose behalf they were authorised to act; and whether there was any misconduct on the part of any person in any of these matters
The opposition People's National Party (PNP) has questioned whether the terms of reference are broad enough.
A statement from the PNP called on the commission to find out what the objective was in hiring Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to contest the extradition request, and precisely who provided money for their retainer.
The Prime Minister has said that the $50,000 paid to the firm came from party donors.
The Prime Minister said he regretted bringing in the lobbying firm in the case but insisted he acted only in his capacity as head of the JLP.
The commission's chairman has not ruled out calling Mr Golding and other ministers to give evidence.
He has already engaged a former PNP minister, Hugh Small, in his legal team.
Many analysts have written off Mr Golding's political future as a result of this and other scandals.
But some have advised caution, like Professor of Social and Political Change at the University of the West Indies, Brian Meeks.
He told the Jamaica Observer: "The Prime Minister is still the sitting prime minister and we can look at the fact that they have a few years to go before elections and hope to recover and re-establish and put some sort of authority on the political situation in Jamaica, which they haven't been able to do this year."
The commission will submit its findings to the Governor General by the end of February 2011.