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Gov't to allocate more funds to Public Defender's office

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 07, 2013    

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MINISTER without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Horace Dalley, says that funding for improvements in the performance of the Office of the Public Defender will be included in the 2013/14 estimates of expenditure, which should be tabled in April.

The minister, who has specific responsibility for public service matters, made the disclosure Tuesday following a meeting with public defender Earl Witter.

He, however, said that the funding will not be directly related to the completion of the report into the deadly Tivoli Gardens incursion, which is nearly three years late.

"What I was interested in is the ability of the office of the public defender to do its job going forward, not about the completion of the report," Dalley told the Jamaica Observer.

"We had a very, very fruitful meeting, and we will make provisions in the budget to provide the necessary support that it needs to do its work," he added.

Opposition leader Andrew Holness told Observer reporters and editors last week that he felt that adequate resources should be allocated to the office to help it meet its commitments, including completing the report for which the office began collecting statements shortly after the May 2010 incursion.

"I don't think Jamaica, in its independent history, would have had situations like this to deal with before, so the forensics that would be required, the experts that would be required; it takes some resources," Holness said.

A parliamentary commission, headed by House Speaker Michael Peart, met Witter on the repeatedly missed deadlines for the tabling of the report last week. Following the talks, members of the Gordon House staff were temporarily dispatched to the office to assist in completing the report.

However, Parliament has since disclosed that based on information provided on the status of the report, the completion date could not be determined. The latest deadline for completion is five months away.

The commission said that issues relating to the operation of the office will be thoroughly investigated when the interim report is completed.

The public defender has come under increasing pressure for the lengthy delay in the report, with some groups calling for his resignation.

More than 70 civilians, two policemen and a soldier were killed during the joint police-military operation to apprehend Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who was wanted for extradition to the United States to face criminal charges in May 2010.

Coke was apprehended about a month later and flown to the US after waiving his right to an extradition hearing. He has since been convicted on racketeering charges and is now serving a 23-year sentence.

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