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All sound and fury ...

Published:Friday | December 11, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Gary Spaulding
Donna Parchment Brown
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Donna Parchment Brown has assumed the position of political ombudsman without as much as an abeng, a blowhorn or a speaker to sound off. For this is the whole duty of the holder of that office - all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, a venerable preacher by profession, has anointed the soft-spoken attorney to bring rowdy politicians to book, with not even as much as a whip.

Being a man with much pulpit experience as well, Parchment's predecessor, Bishop Herro Blair may have been better equipped to pontificate to recalcitrant politicians. For that is all that persons appointed to the office of political ombudsman can do.

Well-intentioned as they have been, holders of the office have, for many years, been crippled by a severe handicap in law. Parchment Brown is no exception.

She has her work cut out, as gashes have begun to open in some festering constituencies. Sadly, Parchment Brown will not fare any better than the goodly bishop in treating these wounds, not because of any fault of hers.

 

INEFFECTIVE POSTS

 

The propensity of legislators to establish ineffectual creatures of Parliament is really at the heart of the matter.

The nation's Parliament pompously enacts laws to bring into effect mechanisms to fight age-old battles but with no arsenal to go into battle. The office of the political ombudsman is a case in point. I shan't trod down the weather-beaten path or jump on any jeep or bandwagon that suggests that the office is useless. It is not, if given the tools to do its work.

The office doesn't have to be ineffectual. It has been made that way by our legislators.

As well-thinking as she may be, and I have absolutely no doubt that she is, Parchment Brown is swimming upstream, just as her predecessor did.

For Parchment Brown ought not require the general secretaries of the two major political parties, or, indeed, the party leaders, to ensure that political flags placed in public space be removed.

I fear that if Parchment Brown continues to pursue this route, she will be venturing vainly on the same aimless path undertaken year after year by the goodly bishop himself.

Like Blair, Parchment Brown was, for many years, a pivotal member of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and understands well the workings of tough inner-city communities.

I have witnessed both Blair and Parchment, along with their well-intentioned team, venturing into deeply volatile communities scoured by bloody gang warfare and feuds.

They are Jamaicans who desire to serve the country with distinction.

 

AUTHORISED INVESTIGATIONS

 

The law stipulates that the holder of that office of political ombudsman is authorised to investigate matters that constitute, or are likely to constitute, a breach of any "agreement, code or arrangement ... in force between or among political parties in Jamaica," or are "likely to prejudice good relations between the supporters of various political parties".

That individual may also investigate complaints brought forward by "any person or body of persons, whether incorporated or not."

Oddly, the law does not permit the ombudsman to hear complaints from public-service organisations or local authorities. Yet, the political ombudsman does not enjoy any form of prosecutorial, or, for that matter, any other power, rendering the holder all bark and no bite.

The new political ombudsman snapped hard recently. But there were no teeth, only gum.

She threatened to haul recalcitrant politicians before the courts if they refused to accede to her summons. Having been summoned, what's next?

All the politicians will have to do is meet, and that's the end of the that.

That apart, what guarantees are there that political miscreants in volatile communities will adhere to the pleas of general secretaries or candidates? Or a new candidate trying to familiarise him or herself with a constituency plagued with political nuisances who answer to no one?

How much of these agreements contained in the Code of Conduct are packaged in law that can enable the political ombudsman to go beyond convening meetings with political functionaries?

Take the age-old issue of flags as an example. It is nothing short of absurd to order law-abiding citizens to desist from placing flags on their private property. But the proscription of the placement of flags in public spaces is captured in Section 46 subsection 1 of the National Solid Waste Management Act states that, inter alia: "A person commits an offence if he erects, displays (whether by writing, marking or otherwise) deposits or affixes anything in a public place or any building, wall, fence or structure abutting or adjoining a public place, in such circumstances as to cause, contribute to, or tend to the defacement of that place, building wall, fence or structure, as the case may be."

So if the law exists, isn't it also the responsibility of the police, not the political ombudsman, to enforce public order? Isn't it the police who should be taking on political hoodlums instead of politicians and political referees?

- Gary Spaulding is a parliamentary and political affairs reporter. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com.