Fri | Aug 14, 2020

Not you, madam! - I am answerable to the contractor general, prime minister tells political ombudsman

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown

Following a stern warning from Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown against the abuse of state resources in St Mary South East in order to gain political mileage in a pending by-election, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he only answers to the contractor general and the National Contracts Commission on government spending on contracts, indicating that he does not answer to Parchment Brown.

Holness said that the contractor general is the constituted authority to oversee the contracting process, in addition to the National Contracts Commission, which has a statutory role in ensuring that the contract process is above board.

“I respond to them in these matters,” said Holness, while responding to a question from Radio Jamaica’s Dionne Jackson Miller at his second quarterly press conference at Jamaica House.

But Parchment Brown said in response that the prime minister, “and anyone else in that position, is answerable to the people of Jamaica”.

She contends that Jamaicans may approach the prime minister through different organs of the State. Accountability is not restricted to select organisations, said Parchment Brown, adding that the mandate of the ombudsman “requires me to pursue this matter, not because I am saying any wrongful act has been done, but to assist him, his party, and the opposition party to resist any escalation of words or actions, which may be related to a notion that there are some wrongful acts being committed and to reassure the public, who I serve.”

The political ombudsman reasoned that good governance, the rule of law, and adherence to the Political Code of Conduct were matters with which she had a common interest with the prime minister in seeing those things observed.

Holness insisted that there was no basis for anyone to lodge complaints about political abuse of public resources to carry out work in the St Mary South East constituency.

Julian Robinson, general secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP), had asked the political ombudsman and the contractor general to monitor the $600 million road works in St Mary to ensure that public funds are not used in a corrupt manner.

Yesterday, Holness said: “The Government is not using state resources for partisan benefit.”
He contended that the concerns raised about the multimillion-dollar road project were not valid. However, he conceded that “there is a general concern about how public resources are spent, particularly closer to an election, for partisan benefit. We are always prepared to engage in a conversation to have oversight of that. In fact, that will be a part of our bipartisan talks to see how we can mitigate that”.

Parchment Brown visited St Mary South East earlier this month as the political temperature started to rise in a constituency where the People’s National Party (PNP) won only by five votes in the 2016 general election.

“I am warning against any abuse of public resources in support of a political agenda,” Parchment Brown had cautioned.

Yesterday, she revealed that she had not written to Holness specifically about the Junction Road project. However, she claimed that she had already written to the prime minister, saying, “Let’s try to make sure that nothing is implemented that had not already been settled before August 14 ­ the date of the death of the member of parliament.

“I am not alleging impropriety. I am raising the concern that there are still unanswered questions relating to a large public-works programme of similar cost conducted during an election period, which raised many negative comments across the political spectrum in relation to Jamaica and good governance.”

The political machinery of the PNP and the governing Jamaica Labour Party is at full throttle in St Mary South East as party officials weave through the nooks and crannies of the constituency to win the support of eligible voters.

Yesterday, the prime minister assured journalists that the by-elections to fill the three vacant seats in Parliament would be announced “shortly”.