Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Political complaints skyrocket

Published:Tuesday | August 18, 2020 | 12:28 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Donna Parchment Brown, Jamaica’s political ombudsman.
Donna Parchment Brown, Jamaica’s political ombudsman.

Complaints filed to the Office of the Political Ombudsman have climbed by a third in the seven days since the announcement of the September 3 election date compared to submissions over the previous four months.

Donna Parchment Brown confirmed that she has received 10 complaints since Prime Minister Andrew Holness rang the election bell in Parliament on August 11. Thirty were lodged between March and July.

The spike in reports has prodded Parchment Brown to urge prospective candidates and their supporters to obey the Political Code of Conduct.

The political ombudsman said many of the complaints have already been addressed, but she is especially concerned that some have the potential to escalate and trigger confrontation and violence.

“We have had a lot more complaints in 2020 leading up to the announcement of the elections, and since the elections have been announced, than we saw in 2016,” she told The Gleaner on Monday.

With the nomination of candidates set to get under way today, Parchment Brown said that it was important that the public be constantly reminded that “certain things” are not allowed. This includes the blocking of access to communities, the defacing of billboards, and the damaging of personal and public property.

“I sincerely hope that everyone, everywhere in Jamaica will allow each of the candidates to exercise their rights to campaign. No one has the right to prevent anyone from campaigning anywhere in the island of Jamaica,” she said.

Parchment Brown was kept busy up to Monday morning having dialogue with varying political representatives to quell emerging spats.

One of the individuals she contacted was the People’s National Party (PNP) caretaker, Dr Desmond Brennan, regarding utterances that he intends to take the Clarendon North Central seat “by force”.

Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) caretaker candidate Robert Morgan wrote to the political ombudsman alleging the statement to be a threat to the democratic process.

Parchment Brown disclosed that Brennan said that as a practising Christian, he was merely referencing the song, Tek it by Force, by gospel artiste Lubert Levy.

Brennan has since apologised.

She had also been informed on Saturday that JLP Clarendon South Western prospective candidate Kent Gammon was barred from entering Havana Heights in Clarendon on Saturday.

Parchment Brown said that she has since spoken to the PNP’s Lothan Cousins, who is contesting the seat.

“He indicated to me that he had, shortly after the incident, visited the community and he had instructed the people in the community to be aware of what the Code of Conduct provides, which is freedom of access for everyone to campaign and he has told the people in the community that they were not authorised to be trying to prevent anyone from coming in to campaign,” Parchment Brown said, adding that the matter has now been put to rest.

Another row that has since been resolved was between PNP caretaker for St Andrew West Rural, Krystal Tomlinson, and the incumbent, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn. Tomlinson said that a contracted town crier’s vehicle was blocked by Cuthbert-Flynn.

Flynn, on the other hand, took issue with Tomlinson’s use of a vehicle bearing the logo of the state-run Social Development Commission broadcasting a partisan message.

During the meeting, Tomlinson said that she was not aware that the operator of the vehicle had an SDC logo. Meanwhile, Cuthbert-Flynn said that she was merely parking her vehicle and not obstructing the announcer.

“The entire incident shows how easy it is for things to escalate,” Parchment Brown said.