Over the last several weeks, Jamaicans have expressed various opinions on a tweet posted by the President of the People’s National Party Youth Organization, Ms. Krystal Tomlinson, which referenced actions by Jamaica’s Prime Minister as reminding her of Hitler.

Ms. Tomlinson issued an apology within hours, however, it did not find favour with the Jamaica Labour Party and Generation 2000, who wrote letters of complaint to the Political Ombudsman.

In the case of the Jamaica Labour Party, the letter also questioned whether it was not Ms. Tomlinson and her party who were in line with Hitler’s words “I use emotion…”

In a series of discussions with the Political Ombudsman involving the PNP’s General Secretary, Mr. Julian Robinson, Ms. Krystal Tomlinson and the JLP’s General Secretary, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, the seriousness of the charge and counter charge was highlighted.

Ms. Tomlinson reaffirmed her apology and her speedy action in removing the original tweet.  She expressed the view that there should be equitable treatment regarding the use of “Hitler”; that it be condemned and that all political actors commit to never using such a reference.

Dr. Chang spoke of the extreme distress caused by the remarks/tweet and the risk to the hard fought consensus on the practice of politics and protection from government abuse that both parties have accomplished following the era of political conflict/violence and fear.

The Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct at Standard #4 Public Utterances states:

Party officials (including platform speakers) should not make statements which:

  1. Are inflammatory or likely to incite others to confrontation or violence;
  2. Constitute slander or libel;
  3. Are malicious in reference to opposing candidates, their families and party officials.

The Political Ombudsman condemns Ms. Tomlinson’s original tweet which breached the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct, and the response of Dr. Chang whose reference to the despised Nazi, was unwarranted and unhelpful in an apparent ‘tit for tat’ which also breached the Code.

I call on officials of our political organizations to act with restraint and wisdom to protect persons, such as the Prime Minister in the case of the original reference, political parties, our institutions, all office holders, their supporters and the public from harm.

The references to the most despised leader of the 20th century were unnecessary and unhelpful and have fomented harm in the public space.  Civil discourse on matters of public interest must not include name calling or harmful references.

“Let’s draw the line in the sand now”

Jamaica’s last General Elections were held February 2016 followed by the national Local Government Elections and several By Elections in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

We are now midway in the 5 year General Election cycle and it behooves us as citizens, candidates and political parties to know the legal landscape and to act accordingly.

The Representation of the People Amendment Act 2016, has established some obligations and offences relating to Campaign Finance Reform, of which all Jamaicans must be aware.

These herald the political parties’ clear statement of a desire for a political architecture which will promote integrity and reduce “capture” by persons and institutions. The law is underpinned by the Election Campaign Legislation & Regulations 2017.

Political Parties should educate their members and candidates.

I adopt the words of the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica in her forward to their publication on the aforementioned Legislation and Regulations, where she noted:
“We believe that campaign financing reform is key to Jamaica’s Vision 2030 goal of accountability and transparency in governance” and “…what is more important, is that all stakeholders embrace, uphold and demand the enforcement of its provision so that we, as a nation, may realize the true benefits within…”.

Part VII of the Representation of the People Act, establishes election offences and at:
Section 81, addresses Notice of Election Meetings and requires that during the election period, election meetings, marches or motorcades shall not be held unless the Officer or Sub-Officer of Police in charge of the parish has been notified at least eight hours before.

Breach of this section, gives rise to a fine or imprisonment or both on summary conviction in the Parish Court.

Section 82. makes it a requirement for a Printer, Publisher or person posting billboards, placards or posters related to an election to affix their name and address on the face of the election material and if they fail, on summary conviction, to face a fine or imprisonment with or without hard labour for up to twelve months. It further notes that if the person involved is a candidate or the agent of a candidate, the person shall be guilty of an illegal practice.

Section 91. addresses Bribery (vote buying) and Treating and deems a person who directly or indirectly gives, lends, contracts, reimburses, promises, offers money, valuable consideration, office or employment or receives any of the above for voting or refraining from voting, shall be deemed guilty of bribery and at S94, such persons, on conviction may be liable to a fine or imprisonment for a term of between three and five years with or without hard labour.

Section 96. sets rout the Disqualifying Effect of Offences such as bribery, treating, undue influence, bars the convicted person from:
– Being registered as a voter in Local Government or National Election; and
– From being elected or retaining his seat in the House of Representatives or Municipality for a period of seven years.

These expressly address some of the matters that have been mired in uncertainty, bad habits, impunity, excuses and finger pointing and are a sample of our commitment.

This is a line in the sand where political parties, candidates, public officials, contributors-foreign and domestic, and party supporters have the duty and opportunity to improve our political system to the benefit of all; notwithstanding any questionable actions by persons in previous elections or election cycles.

Contributions
Persons and entities who have received government contracts are specially provided for and protected in the reporting period. Where the contributor has received government contracts of the prescribed value (currently $500,000) two years before or two years after the contribution, they are required to file a prescribed declaration on Form 2A within fourteen days of the contribution or face a fine of up to one million dollars on summary conviction in the Parish Court.

This provides a check and balance process when these are compared to reports of candidates and political parties.

Many civic minded individuals and companies contribute to candidates and political parties and such support is important to our democracy. They are to be commended as they enhance transparency and accountability when they provide the filings and invoices stipulated in the law.

It is to be noted however that certain contributions are now specifically prohibited at S52 AT(1) as impermissible. Some examples include:
a) Any foreign or Commonwealth government, or any agent of such government, whether directly or indirectly;
b) A public body as defined in section 2 of the Public Bodies management and Accountability Act;
c) An entity whose existence is or activities are illegal under any law.

The making and acceptance of such impermissible contributions may give rise to a fine of up to three million dollars or up to twelve months imprisonment.

This campaign financing reform, aligns with and strengthens the mandate of the Political Ombudsman as articulated at Section 12.- (1) of the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act
“Subject to this section, the Political Ombudsman shall investigate any action taken by a political party, its members or supporters, where he is of the opinion that such action action-
a) Constitutes or is likely to constitute a breach of any agreement, code or arrangement for the time being in force between or among political parties in Jamaica; or
b) Is likely to prejudice good relations between the supporters of various political parties”.

and the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct (Code), which provides that
“the parties shall take such actions as are necessary to ensure full compliance with this Code by all officials of political parties” to wit

1. Non-Violence and Non-intimidation
f) Candidates or others acting on behalf of candidates:
i) Must not use funds derived from any source, public or private, to improperly influence electoral choices; (bribery) and
ii) Shall exercise all reasonable care in ensuring that all financial donations are derived from legitimate sources (not impermissible).

7. Political Tribalism
The parties eschew the practice of political tribalism rooted in coercion, intimidation or violence of any kind and the parties commit themselves to removing any structures and resisting the development of any behavioural, cultural, social or organizational practices, which reinforce political tribalism” (garrison politics).

Officials should:
Repudiate any act of corruption in the discharge of their functions.

Jamaica’s political, private and public sectors, civic leaders and the citizenry at large have repeatedly demonstrated through legislation, our commitment to the Rule of Law, Integrity and Good Governance. Citizens must report breaches to the trusted individuals, churches, JP’s, Electoral Commission, the political parties, Police, the Political Ombudsman, MOCA and other key agencies for action.

Public knowledge and support for these laws and effective enforcement will bring the written words to life for the benefit of all. This will improve trust in our leaders and institutions, better policies and development.

Not every problem will be addressed but as we go forward let each and all of us do our part to educate and to repudiate wrong doing.

We can improve Jamaica if we enforce our Laws and Standards for Politics.

 

In seeking to advance its efforts at political engagement of the public and politicians in dialogue, the Office of the Political Ombudsman, earlier this month, hosted a team from the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Head of the Secretariat’s Good Offices for Peace Governance and Peace Directorate and her colleagues, met with the Political Ombudsman and various groups, in a series of Focus Group sessions aimed at garnering information to inform the actions of the Political Ombudsman, aimed at:

  • Reducing political conflict, including ‘public utterances’ that may divide, demean, or incite
  • Enhancing political appreciation for the benefits of consensus within a competitive environment
  • Improving policy-making and good governance; and
  • Increasing participation of women in political parties with a view to reducing conflict.

Do you know about dialogue spaces such as?

  • National Partnership Council
  • Vale Royal Talks
  • Office of the Political Ombudsman
  • Dispute Resolution Foundation – Mediations
  • PMI Interventions
  • Restorative Justice Centres
  • CDC’s, DAC’s, and PDC’s

Please name any other dialogues in Jamaica.

Political Ombudsman, Hon. Mrs. Donna Parchment Brown, CD, JP, signs the condolence book at George William Gordon House, for former Prime Minister, Most Hon. Edward P.G. Seaga, ON, PC

 

Mr Seaga was a signatory to the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct document of 2002 – the precursor to the current Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct of 2005. (cover of 2002 issue to be included)

Posts on Social Media are part of the public space

Political parties, officials and surrogates are not immune to findings of defamation, incitement, malice, provocation, volatile confrontation or increasing of tension by their posts. The language, product, actions and reactions on a social media platform must be responsible and just as accountable as in other media spaces, notwithstanding the fact that faces are hidden by a screen.

Jamaica’s political parties committed to the tenets of the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct, signed in Jamaica’s George William Gordon House in September of 2005. Among these are the Avoidance of Confrontation and the control of negative Public Utterances.

By signing certifying their continuing adherence to these values, candidates and elected officials accept a duty to improve our politics for our people.

Political Tribalism in the Code of Conduct states –

“The Parties eschew the practice of political tribalism rooted in coercion, intimidation or violence of any kind and the parties commit themselves to removing any structures and resisting the development of any behavioural, cultural, social or organizational practises, which reinforce political tribalism” and demands that political leaders and officials conduct their business having regard for the rights of members of other parties, of persons who are of no party and of the public.

We applaud the recent meeting of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at the start of 2019 in a very toxic conflictual time for Jamaica.  The other meetings proposed require from the party leaders and teams, wisdom, restraint, good listening and respect for those who are not at the table; but are those for whom the decisions are being made.

I call on the officials of political parties and supporters to remove the posts on social media that demean and distort and to put forward material that will help the leaders to arrive at the best course of action for Jamaica to increase the welfare of all Jamaicans.

Hon. Donna Parchment Brown, CD, JP, Notary Public

Political Ombudsman

85a Duke Street

Kingston

 

Email: politicalombudsman@yahoo.com

Tel: (876) 922-8653; 922-0317

Cell: (876) 280-3612

 

KINGSTON, Jamaica (September 17, 2018):The Office of the Political Ombudsman (OPO) is marking the 13th anniversary of the signing of the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct with a conference titled, “Jamaica’s Democracy, Parties, Participation and Principles.”

The invitation-only event will take place on Friday, September 21, 2018 from 9 a.m. until 12 noon at the University of the West Indies, Mona Faculty of Law (Room 1B). Registration and liquid refreshments will begin at 8:30 a.m.

The conference intends to interrogate democracy and politics in Jamaica and to conceive of next steps in reducing political tribalism, promoting transparency, accountability, the Rule of Law and good governance.

Former Prime Minister and signatory to the code, Mr. Bruce Golding, will be a special guest at the event, and bring greetings.
The keynote address will be delivered by Mr. Howard Mitchell, President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica.

Other presentations are expected from Dr. Henley Morgan of the Agency for Inner-City Renewal, PNP YO president Ms. Krystal Tomlinson, G2K president Mr. Stephen Edwards and Political Ombudsman Hon. Donna Parchment Brown.

Professor Hopeton Dunn will moderate the event, including discussions following the presentations.

The Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct was signed on September 20, 2005 by then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and then Opposition Leader Bruce Golding.

The document outlines eight core standards for the practice of politics in Jamaica. They include: Non-Violence and Non-Intimidation, Safety of Private and Public Property, Avoidance of Confrontation, Acceptable Public Utterances, Freedom of Access/Movement, Avoidance of Defacing of Buildings or Installations, Ending Political Tribalism, and finally, adherence to a Code of Ethics.

These standards are intended to promote democracy, good governance, and a fair and just electoral process.

The code applies to all candidates as well as officials of political parties. It is binding for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and for Mayors and Councillors.