Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Political ombudsman wants more teeth to ... police politicians!

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Parchment Brown

As concerns linger about effectiveness of the Office of the Political Ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown has admitted that she would welcome amendments to the legislation passed in 2002 to make her office more potent.

"As we go forward and we look at changes to the Representation of People Act and other legislative and constitutional changes, there may be other things that need to be done to this commission of parliament to make it even more effective and to make people feel more confident in its ability to use things other than negotiation, meetings, moral suasion and public utterance to have good results," Parchment Brown told The Sunday Gleaner last Friday.

The Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act empowers the holder of that office to "investigate any action taken by a political party, its members or supporters where he (she) is of the opinion that such action constitutes, or is likely to constitute, a breach of any code or arrangement for the time being in force between or among political parties in Jamaica, or is likely to prejudice good relations between the supporters of various political parties".

Parchment Brown acknowledged that the political scene in Jamaica is not as violent as when the post was commissioned by Parliament, but stressed that the work of her office is no less important.

"What we are seeing in the modern age is what is often described as corruption. Corruption is not a word that is specifically treated with in the code or in the law. But an allegation of corruption gives rise to conflict, and a feeling that corruption exists gives rise to conflict," said Parchment Brown.

"So what we are finding is that in the two elections in 2016 and now in three by-elections in 2017, there is again a discussion about whether the use of public resources should not be demonstrably mindful of good governance, integrity and the rule of law.

"But let's not fool ourselves; in 2016 people were physically harmed and the allegations were that these were related to the campaign in more than one constituency. So we have not even gone past the violence part. We are far further along than we were, but that door is not closed."

Parchment Brown added that while there are those who speak against the office and its mandate and question whether the parameters are being exceeded, she has no desire to interfere in the lawful conduct of public business by public officers.

"What I raise with them (public officers) is the question of: is the way in which this is being conducted potentially going to reduce trust and confidence in the state and in the political actors, therefore leading to harm to politics and the beloved country Jamaica," argued Parchment Brown.

"We want certainly in Jamaica free and fair elections, and free means people can go about their electioneering without any fear, and fair means people will find money from their supporters, from contributors, from their own resources, and they will use that to run their campaign," added Parchment Brown.

The six candidates down to contest the three by-elections on October 30, last Friday signed the Political Code of Conduct, which is monitored by the political ombudsman.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com