Gov’t nears transferring political ombudsman functions to ECJ

BY the first quarter of this year, the Ministry of Justice should have a Cabinet submission prepared detailing how the functions of the Office of the Political Ombudsman (OPO) will be subsumed into the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

This follows last year’s announcement that the office would be scrapped when the then Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown’s tenure came to an end in November.

On Friday, providing an update on the development, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck told the Jamaica Observer that the Cabinet submission is currently being drafted, after which, it will be circulated to the relevant stakeholders for their comment.

“The stakeholders [would include] the Attorney General’s Chambers [and the] electoral commissioners who would need to have a say in what is being proposed…because we don’t want to just impose something on the commissioners and they don”t have the opportunity to comment,” he said.

Chuck noted that once Cabinet approves the submission,”then the necessary legislation will be dealt with and sent to Parliament.”

The OPO was established as a commission of Parliament to conduct investigations in accordance with the provisions of the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act, 2002.

It is mandated 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 the Political Code of Conduct agreed or is likely to prejudice good relations between supporters of various political parties.

With the shuttering of that office and the shifting of its functions to the ECJ, the Government has projected savings of more than $30 million.

Chuck had told the Observer soon after the announcement that from as far back as 2012, Parliament had passed a resolution for the political ombudsman’s functions to be supervised and managed by the electoral commission “where there are independent members as well as representatives of both political parties to consider the complaints that come in at any time, but especially at election time”.

“Even before Donna Parchment became the political ombudsman, that was the position put forward by member [Everald] Warmington and brought to the House of Parliament,” Chuck said as he argued that the electoral commission has a good reputation of settling contentions between the parties.

He said the operation of this separate office was not necessary, arguing that the only time it really functions is around election time.

“And secondly, we are spending $30-odd million unnecessarily. When member Warmington first raised the issue it was $18 million, now it is $30-odd million for functions that could easily be handled by the Electoral Commission,” Chuck said.

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