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Ombudsman demands info on $600m bushing work; Portia questioned

Published:Wednesday | November 23, 2016 | 11:00 AMJovan Johnson
Parchment Brown

Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown has written to Prime Minister Andrew Holness demanding information on a contentious $600-million bush-clearing work programme which the People's National Party (PNP) claims is being used to buy support for next Monday's local government elections.

PNP President Portia Simpson Miller was also questioned by the ombudsman for alleged violence-inciting comments she made during a party meeting in St Ann South Eastern last week.

The PNP had written to Parchment Brown's office for its intervention, arguing that the bush-clearing programme bypassed its councillors and members of parliament and was in breach of the Political Code of Conduct.

"I have written to the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) asking for further and better particulars, both in his capacity as the leader of the party as well as prime minister and the minister responsible for the Ministry of Economic Growth, under whose portfolio I'm advised that the bushing work is being conducted," she told The Gleaner.

 

ALLOW DUE PROCESS

 

The trained mediator said people who are upset about the situation should allow due process to take place.

"We must find out what was the intention of the programme. Are there, in fact, any breaches or not, and if there are breaches, is the Government able to address those breaches in a timely manner? I may form the view at the end that there has been no breach. However, at this time, I'm asking for information and some comments from the prime minister on this matter."

Dr Horace Chang, JLP general secretary and minister in the growth ministry, has said the timing of the de-bushing work and the elections is "coincidental". The programme is needed, especially in light of the recent heavy rains, Chang told RJR on Monday.

Minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Works, Everald Warmington, declined to comment yesterday, saying he was busy helping his councillor-candidates with their campaigns.

"On Munroe Road and Old Hope Road (in St Andrew), persons bushing can visibly be seen in their green party shirts. The PNP will also be bringing this serious matter to the attention of the Office of the Contractor General and the political ombudsman," the PNP has said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Stephen Shaw, manager of communications at the National Works Agency (NWA), which is implementing the programme, said there is no timeline of the de-bushing programme to end.

"It's a drain-cleaning and bushing programme across the country. There is a list of corridors that are to be done, and the work will continue as long as that list remains to be exhausted. The NWA does bushing and drain-cleaning activities every year," he said, confirming that the programme will cost $600 million.

Meanwhile, the political ombudsman said Simpson Miller acknowledged in a meeting yesterday she could have handled the situation in St Ann better. Parchment Brown added that the PNP head should write to her outlining any corrective action she may take.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com