Jamaica: Foreign Affairs Minister Cleared In Lawsuit Over Commonwealth Campaign Funding

(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – Jamaica’s Supreme Court Wednesday cleared Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith in a lawsuit that claimed that a US$99,000 gift towards her failed 2022 Commonwealth secretary general bid had been mishandled.

Acting Puisne Judge Justice Dale Staple, in his judgement, said: “It is my considered view that the claimant does not have the required standing to bring this claim and it should therefore be struck out.

“It is also my finding that, even if he had standing to bring the claim, there are not sufficient grounds upon which to bring the claim. There is simply, in my view, no evidence of the breaches the claimant is asking the court to find that the respondents committed,” said the judge.

The lawsuit was brought against the foreign minister by Jamaican American Wilfred Rattigan on behalf of himself and Jamaicans in the Diaspora. He claimed that Johnson Smith and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to comply with the statutory and administrative regulations under the Financial Administration and Audit Act (FAA) with respect to a US$99,000 donation/gift by “corporate Jamaica”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service were named as second and third respondents, respectively.

Johnson Smith, in response to the ruling, said: “Today, I stand before you with immense gratitude as the Supreme Court of Jamaica has ruled in my favour, having struck out the claim filed by Mr Rattigan against me and the ministry, and determined that he should pay our costs.

“This ruling vindicates my integrity, as I have always maintained my innocence, and the court’s decision reflects the truth I have upheld from the beginning — that the case was baseless and unfounded.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to the many Jamaican people who have reached out to me with unwavering support and belief in my integrity during this challenging period.

“I would also like to acknowledge the support of my family and colleagues and the hard work and dedication of my small legal team. Their expertise and commitment were instrumental in ensuring that justice prevailed.

“As I move forward, I remain steadfast in my commitment to serving Jamaica as its foreign affairs minister. My focus continues to be on representing our nation with honour and integrity on the international stage. Together, let us reaffirm our dedication to transparency, accountability, and the values that make Jamaica strong.”

In September 2022 the Government named GraceKennedy Limited, the Musson Group, and Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica head Keith Duncan as corporate Jamaica members that helped to finance the US$99,000 contract awarded to Finn Partners to provide international communication services for Jamaica’s candidature for the Commonwealth secretary general post.

Rattigan, in the claim, charged that the finance ministry had failed to take appropriate action to compel Johnson Smith and the ministry to comply with the applicable statutory and administrative regulations.

He further contended that Johnson Smith “failed to file a disclosure with the Integrity Commission regarding the donation she received that did not fall within the filing exceptions”.

American firm Finn Partners had been contracted by local private entities to provide public relations, media relations, and thought leadership services for Jamaica’s candidature. The contest took place during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kigali, Rwanda, from June 20 to 25, 2022.

According to the suit, “it is abundantly clear that the monies paid to Finn Partners Inc for its PR efforts in support of the first respondent’s aforementioned campaign was a gift/donation and was therefore governed by the requirements of the FAA guidelines for the acceptance of gifts and donations in kind, and the Ministry of Finance and Planning’s guidelines for the acceptance of and accounting for gifts to the Government”.

Rattigan also sought a declaration by the court that Johnson Smith and the Government of Jamaica failed to fulfil requirements of FAA Act and that she was obligated to report the income to the Tax Administration of Jamaica. He also sought to have the legal and administrative costs of $350,000 to bring the suit covered by Johnson Smith and the Government.

The court said Rattigan’s remedy, if he has a suspicion that a breach of the Integrity Commission Act was committed by Johnson Smith, was to make a complaint to the Integrity Commission. It would then be a matter for them to investigate and prosecute as they see fit.

But the judge said there is no evidence from Rattigan that he made such a complaint and then received a decision from the Integrity Commission concerning such a complaint, which is his duty under Section 37 of the Integrity Commission Act for him to make such a complaint either orally or in writing.

“So, in the absence of proof of a complaint by Mr Rattigan or a request for investigation by Parliament under s 36(1) (which gives authority to the Parliament for the Integrity Commission to investigate an alleged act of corruption) and a decision thereon from the commission, the court cannot say that the proper procedure and thus the proper body would have been engaged in relation to the matters raised.

“What is clear is that it certainly isn’t the lawful authority of Mr Rattigan to initiate a civil suit to determine whether a breach has been committed or not,” the judge said.

Said the judge: “In this Court’s view, Mr Rattigan has failed to demonstrate, on a balance of probabilities, that he has any sufficient legal interest in the matters the subject of the relief claimed to bring a claim. He has not shown, in any of his affidavits, that he has been or will be materially or specially affected by any of the breaches complained of and that he will be made whole by the declarations sought.

“Further, he has not demonstrated, on a balance of probabilities, that he has any authority, from any of the statutory bodies in place to bring this action. Nor has he demonstrated, on the balance of probabilities, that he has tried to use the statutory channels available to him to address whatever concerns he might have concerning the funding of the campaign of the first respondent.