The Office of the Political Ombudsman is a fair and neutral Commission of Parliament tasked with the duty to investigate breaches of the Code of Conduct by political party members and their supporters.

I unequivocally condemn the attack made against the political activist on the team of Mr. Pearnel Charles Jr. in Clarendon early this morning. I wish him a swift and complete recovery. I encourage all Jamaicans to be reminded of our motto “Out of Many One People” and for us to strive to remain grounded and unified.

It is with regret therefore, that I have to comment on the statements made by Mr. Charles Jr. this morning on Nationwide 90 FM. My statement is on twitter. That deplorable act of violence is to be condemned by all as I said earlier. In these times all candidates knowing the impact of statements they make should ensure that they do not undermine the public confidence in Jamaica’s democratic process when persons are already in a state of distrust.

I have already launched an investigation into the killing of Mr. Paul Henry and the JCF has issued a statement suggesting that they are also pursuing several leads not related to politics. The attack this morning to another JLP worker is being investigated by this Office and the Police.

I will be on the ground this week.

An article in the daily Gleaner of August 17, 2020 refers.

I received a report on the matter from Councillor McDonald of the Toll Gate division on Saturday

August 15 at 8:56 p.m. He advised that the JLP candidate for Clarendon South Western, Mr Kent Gammon and his party was prevented from campaigning in Havanna Heights by PNP supporters who were in the road shouting and making it hard for vehicles to go through. I met with candidate Mr Cousins by telephone at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday August 16. He confirmed that the conduct of supporters was unacceptable and that he had visited the community and advised the citizens that all candidates and their supporters should be free to enter the community and should not be impeded in any way.

Mr Cousins agreed to advise Councillor McDonald of the corrective action taken. The Office of the Political Ombudsman informed Councillor McDonald, who was aware that Mr Cousins had visited the area of this incident, at 4:06 p.m. on Sunday August 16. There was no report of any physical threat against any individual.

The matter is closed.

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman who stoutly defended the practice of ‘vote buying’ as simply voters taking advantage of a business opportunity.

Previously I have spoken to a few other Jamaicans who asserted that they only want their $5,000 payment and that corruption is not a big deal.

Jamaica’s political leaders in the Parliament have passed legislation to assert their opposition to corruption, to vote buying by whatever means and to make such actions subject to fines and penalties, as well as promoting a Code for corrective actions by political party leaders on the Recommendation of the Political Ombudsman under the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act, which can be viewed at www.opo.gov.jm.

Corruption simply means doing or failing to do any act so as to obtain an illicit benefit for the person or someone else.

Corruption, according to a recent poll is only of concern to 7% of the public. This either means that the moral, ethical, social and economic eyes of our people are not working or we are resigned to become a country where wrong doing by the ‘bigger heads’ is fine and we accept our position as being unworthy of the respect and honest service of those we elect and employ.

Each case must be looked at and dealt with forcefully and without excuse. Reference to how previous or other acts of stealing from the public of our money, our land, our equipment, our rights is a red herring or smoke screen which lines up partisan interest and responses so to prevent full action.

The Representation of the People Act (www.japarliament.gov.jm) which had the support of both major political parties in its passage through Parliament, provides at S70 for a number of election offences.

Section 91 makes bribery treating and undue influence, offences punishable on summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate (now Parish Judge).

The penalty at S93 for each offence is a fine of between twenty thousand and eighty thousand dollars or imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term of three to five years.

Bribery S91 – including (directly or indirectly by yourself or an agent) means inducing– any person to vote or refrain from voting in exchange for a benefit.

Treating S91 – includes every elector who corruptly accepts food, drink, entertainment or provision in exchange for voting or refraining from voting.

Undue Influence S94 – includes impeding or preventing free exercise of the right of any person to vote by threat, force, duress etc.

These provisions give legal force to the provision set out at Apendix 1 in the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct (Code), www.opo.gov.jm which provides inter alia:

85a Duke Street, Kingston, Jamaica, Tel. 876 922-8653/922-0317 Email: politicalombudsman@opo.gov.jm NEW www.opo.gov.jm

1.(f)(i) Candidates or others acting on behalf of candidates:

Must not use funds derived from any source, public or private to improperly influence electoral choices

The use of unauthorized public and road works such as playfields, bushing, marling are opportunities for candidates and their surrogates to put money into the hands of potential voters under the guise of employment and to suggest to the voters that road and other works are a down payment being done to encourage them to select the candidate involved.

These actions and other breaches of the Code and law, should be reported to the Political Ombudsman, the Electoral Commission, Integrity Commission or the Police as appropriate, so that action can be taken through party leaders and the Courts to hold those in breach to account.

I wish every Jamaican a renewed sense of confidence, honour and duty towards Jamaica Land We Love as we celebrate our Emancipation and Independence.

THE present wave of corruption in public office is unprecedented in modern Jamaica. However, corruption is not new to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

The party boasts a well-established tradition of corrupt behaviour as JLP ministers of Government have presided over wanton robbery of the public purse, and some of them have been convicted and sentenced to serve time in prison.

In the 1950s, former JLP Minister of Education Joe Z Malcolm was sentenced to 12 months at hard labour for defrauding his constituents. Malcom’s successor in the Ministry of Education, LL Simmonds, was next. He was convicted in July 1954 for breaches of the Official Secrets Act, and sentenced to 15 months at hard labour.

In the decade of the 1960s, the former minister of state in the Ministry of Education Arthur Burt may well have been the third to face the courts and be sentenced for his role in the corrupt handling of the school building programme (1967-71) financed by the World Bank. A report from the commission of enquiry established to probe the matter stated that “although suggestions of a grave character were made before the commission involving Dr Burt” he fled the island to avoid appearing before the commission and facing criminal charges.

In February 1990 JAG Smith, former JLP minister of labour, was charged with receiving US$70,000 deemed by the director of public prosecutions to have been unlawfully obtained from farm workers’ savings. He was also charged with conspiracy to defraud. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison at hard labour.

One would have thought that the JLP would want to break with its tradition of corruption, and listening to Prime Minister Holness’s lofty pronouncements of integrity at his swearing-in, many Jamaicans expected honesty and transparency from the new Government. Instead, what we have experienced is an Administration that has taken corruption to another level.

Former JLP Minister of Education Ruel Reid was hastily removed from office to facilitate a full investigation of reports of corruption, nepotism and misappropriation of public funds within the ministry as well as its agencies, including Caribbean Maritime University.

Andrew Wheatley has been relieved of his ministerial responsibility after exposure of widespread corruption in the agencies for which he had portfolio responsibility. We anxiously await the reports from ongoing investigations in the Petrojam scandal.

At present, it is the Ministry of Health and Wellness which is under the microscope, and this, by no means, exhausts the list of corrupt practices that have been exposed since the Holness Administration has taken office.

What is shocking to the Jamaican public is not only the unprecedented depth and breadth of corruption which is being unearthed, but the arrogance of the perpetrators and the refusal of the prime minister to hold his colleagues accountable in any meaningful way.

Corrupt practices seem to have become a way of life for this Administration. It hardly matters to them the poverty that is being experienced by the people they have offered themselves to represent. They don’t seem to care that the health services are inadequately funded. They are content to have an under-funded and ill-equipped security force, despite the escalating criminal violence. Even as the people suffer, the rape of the public purse continues and the perpetrators go about their criminal pursuits with the confidence that they are protected.

Whatever corruption took place under previous Administrations does not and cannot preclude the responsibility of civil society to expose the corruption that is presently enriching a connected criminal clique and depriving critical services like security and health of urgently needed investments.

The Jamaican people cannot remain indifferent to the present wave of corruption. We must demand immediate action on the following list of initiatives that have been put forward. These include:

* The single anti-corruption agency/ the Integrity Commission.

* The criminalisation of breaches of the Political Code of Conduct.

* The strengthening of the powers of the political ombudsman.

The National Integrity Action estimates that the cost of corruption to the Jamaican people is now running into billions of dollars. It is time to bring this Administration to book.

— K Churchill Neita is a veteran attorney-at-law and member of the People’s National Party.

The OPO believes that every citizen has the responsibility to participate in the building of a free and just society, rooted in the central and uninfringeable dignity of a person. The youth, as part of the citizenry, must have a voice in decisions that affect them and as they become stakeholders and change agents in their communities and organizations, they bring perspectives, knowledge and relationships that lead to better decisions and more productive action.

Jamaica has a wealth of social and national organisations dedicated to promoting youth interests. These organizations form a network of knowledge sharing and learning. It is through youth engagement that the skills of active citizenship that contributes positively to the strengthening of society are taught.

The Political Awareness and Respect Initiative (PARI), is a key element of the Office of the Political Ombudsman’s (OPO) public outreach campaign, and comprises a team of young people who have agreed to collaborate with the OPO in undertaking to engage with their peers to work towards strengthening Jamaica’s democratic architecture, as well as to get them to speak on issues around politics, democracy, good governance and the Rule of Law.

Among the fundamental expectations of the collaboration are:

  • An increased public awareness of the Office of the Political Ombudsman and its mandate.
  • Building and strengthening partnerships with other youth organizations, national groups and informal associations.
  • Promoting youth participation in governance

 

PARI was developed jointly by the OPO and key youth leaders following consultations since 2016. PARI members were selected from social and national groups the three counties of the island, Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey. These groups included the National Youth Parliament of Jamaica (NYPJ), National Youth Council of Jamaica (NYCJ) and the Student Unions from numerous Universities. The main criteria in considering eligibility for membership is age. A potential member must be between the ages of 17years to 30 years.

In March 2020 the group met and established Rules of Engagement, Expectations and Key Strategies for advancement.

 

Rules of Engagement

The following were agreed on:

  • Meetings to be held once monthly
  • A Whatsapp group created to facilitate communication outside of meeting times.
  • Correspondences to be sent via email following notices in the Whatsapp group.
  • To actively engage with the various social media platforms and website of the OPO.

 

Key Strategies:

  • A 4 week listening tour (face-to-face and on social media platforms), to ascertain the needs and interests of target audiences;
  • An outreach program focused on soft-selling key messages about democracy through group engagement (Quizzes and Sketches)
  • Training for PARI leaders on effective presentation skills, active listening and reporting.

 

Action Points:

  • To strengthen partnership between the Office of the Political Ombudsman and the Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Engage in strengthening democracy
  • Assist youths in learning to build up institutions