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 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

In preparation for the March 2 by-election in Clarendon South Eastern the Office of the Political Ombudsman at the invitation of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) will operate the Election Centre from 7am on Monday in May Pen, and will keep it open until after polls close.

The Election Centre is responsible for monitoring both electoral and political activities on Election Day. It is co-chaired by the Director of Elections at the EOJ, Mr Glasspole Brown, and the Political Ombudsman, Hon. Donna Parchment Brown. Membership includes the Jamaica Defense Force, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, The Jamaica Broadcasting Commission, the National Integrity Action, the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches, and Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections.

“We are prepared and ready to ensure that this by-election is free and fair,” Parchment Brown said. “We will each be in regular contact with our partners on the ground, at polling stations, and around the community to monitor activity and promote smooth, accessible voting. We want to see a day when those who will be out can exercise their right to vote or go about their business in a free and safe environment.”

Both parties attended and took responsibility, Parchment Brown says.

Hon. Donna Parchment Brown, Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman, issued the following statement following her meeting with individuals involved in the incident in Clarendon South Eastern last
Sunday.

“I held a meeting with both those directly affected and political representatives from both parties, namely People’s National Party (PNP) caretaker for the constituency Patricia Duncan Sutherland, and Mayor of May Pen and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) representative Winston Maragh.

“The important outcome is that we got commitments from both parties to take responsibility for the actions of their supporters going forward.

“Under the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct, ‘nothing should be done to unlawfully prevent or restrict anyone from canvassing or campaigning in any place.’ While the JLP’s right to campaign was impeded, it appears that the actual violence may have been triggered by something which occurred during the altercation, but was not a political matter.

“As an independent and neutral Commission of Parliament, the Office of the Ombudsman’s job is to monitor and investigate potential breaches of the Code of Conduct and hold politicians accountable on behalf of the public.”

A meeting is slated to take place tomorrow, Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 9am, in Clarendon, with the Political Ombudsman and those individuals involved in the violent incident that took place on February 23, 2020, that was captured on video and widely shared via social media.

This meeting is part of an investigation that the Ombudsman has undertaken. The Hon. Donna Parchment Brown, Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman, originally requested a meeting with the General Secretaries of both parties for February 26. That meeting is now being rescheduled to follow the Clarendon meeting. The date for the meetings with both party General Secretaries is to be agreed upon.

The Office of the Political Ombudsman (OPO) is neutral and independent, and is responsible for ensuring political actors comply with the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct (known informally as the Code of Conduct).
The Code has eight tenets, which include freedom of access to campaign, prohibiting violence amongst party members and public utterances that are malicious, slanderous or can trigger violence.

“This violent behaviour has no place in our political system,” Mrs. Parchment Brown said. “All parties are aware of what they have committed to in the agreement, and my office has the duty to hold them accountable on behalf of the public. This is exactly what I intend to do.”

Candidates for March 2 By-Election sign Political Code of Conduct

Candidates for the upcoming by-election in the constituency of Clarendon South Eastern affirmed their commitment to good governance and to fair campaigning by today signing the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct (the Code).

Messrs Pearnel Charles Jr, Jamaica Labour Party and Dereck Lambert, running as an Independent, both signed the code, along with their campaign managers.

The Code governs the actions of both of the major political parties and all other legitimate political parties in Jamaica. It applies to all political players.

Mr Stanhope Porteous, Justice of the Peace officiated at the ceremony, joining Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman the Hon. Donna Parchment Brown.

“As an independent and neutral Commission of Parliament, it is the OPO’s job to hold politicians to account on behalf of Jamaicans,” Mrs. Parchment Brown said. “These standards which they are committing to uphold reflect the very best in political behaviour, which all political actors should strive for, on behalf of the voting public.”

The Office of the Political Ombudsman is responsible for promoting and ensuring that standards in politics are understood and followed. In 2020, the Office is expanding an awareness campaign to youth and developing a social media guide to act as a supplement to the Code of Conduct.

 

Kicking off a 2020 awareness building campaign, Jamaica’s Office of the Political Ombudsman (OPO) met today with the Jamaican Constabulary Force Liaison Officers from across the island.

The JCF Liaison Officers play a key role as the OPO’s partner, investigating potential breaches of the Code of Conduct, and keeping the OPO informed of queries and complaints lodged by the public.

Today’s meeting focused on the roles of both the Ombudsman and the JCF and how, together, they can work to promote political harmony and ensure adherence to the laws and the Code of Conduct that politicians created and agreed to abide by.

“It is our job, as a neutral and independent Commission of Parliament, to hold politicians accountable on behalf of all Jamaicans,” Mrs Parchment Brown said.  We can’t do this alone, we need to work closely with all of our partners and other community leaders, and that’s what today is all about – working together for a better Jamaica.”

JCF Liaison Officers reviewed the Code of Conduct, guidelines on how to best communicate with the Ombudsman’s Office, and how they can keep the OPO abreast of activities in their parishes.

Deputy Superintendent Williams, the Senior JCF Liaison to the OPO, attended the meeting and noted that “a key part of our work during campaigns and elections is making sure citizens and residents feel safe, and are aware of their rights, by sharing information with them about what they can expect from the JCF and the Office of the Ombudsman.”

The morning session was designed to sensitize JCF Liaison officers in advance of national and local campaigning and elections.

Abuja, Nigeria (October 30, 2019) – In a wide-ranging speech to the International Ombud Expo today, the Hon. Donna Parchment Brown, Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman, discussed her office’s plans to host a social media forum with experts from across Jamaica.  The event is slated for early in 2020, and supplements the Office’s plans to work more closely with youth by establishing a Youth Ambassadors program.

“This office supports freedom of expression as both healthy and vital for civil society and the continued strength of our democracy, “Mrs Parchment Brown said.

“Having said that, looking outside Jamaica, we can see that the broad reach of social media has had both benefits and challenges, which we need to address collectively in order to make the most of social media as an accessible, democratizing tool.”

Mrs Parchment Brown embraced a simplicity of language in discussing integrity, noting that ‘people are experts in their lives,’ and that the office exists, ‘so that the public can get the benefit of the resources that belong to them.’

The Ombudsman’s remarks were part of the three-day Expo 2019 which brought together more than 500 national and specialty ombud and grievance handling offices from over 100 countries, to facilitate better governance and improve performance in governments and organisations across the world.

In her remarks the Ombudsman pointed to recent research that noted that public distrust for politicians is high, with 75 per cent of respondents believing politicians in Jamaica are corrupt.  By engaging youth, experts in a range of fields, and developing partnerships, the Ombudsman said that a key priority is maintaining and restoring confidence in the institutions of government.

Montego Bay (October 18, 2019) –  All 100 members of Jamaica’s National Youth Parliament today signed the Agreement & Declaration on Political Conduct, informally known as ‘the Code,’ designed to enhance and promote standards in political life, in a ceremony presided over by Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman, the Hon. Donna Parchment Brown.

The ceremony was part of a four-day training session for youth organised jointly by the Ministry of Education Youth and Information, the Youth Advisory Committee of Jamaica and National Integrity Action.

“This Code is designed to set standards in politics for everyone in political life to endorse and follow,” Ms Parchment Brown noted. “We are very pleased that the youth of Jamaica – our young leaders – are making this commitment today.”

The Office of the Political Ombudsman is responsible for promoting and ensuring that standards in politics are understood and followed.  The OPO is continuing its outreach with youth groups and educational institutes to broaden awareness of its role in promoting standards in politics.  Copies of the code of conduct are available on the OPO website at https://opo.gov.jm/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/RS-2005-09-George-William-Agreement-and-Declaration-on-Political-Conduct.pdf