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House committee says no to ombudsman

Blair's fate sealed!

Friday, July 20, 2012    

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PARLIAMENTARY Ombudsman Bishop Herro Blair's fate appeared sealed yesterday, subject to a vote in Parliament, after the House of Representatives' Human Resource and Social Development Committee (HRSDC) expressed unanimous disapproval of continuing with his office.

Three of the MPs present seemed determined to have the review of his office completed and his redundancy recommended, immediately. But Chairman Rudyard Spencer insisted on Blair being allowed to make a case at their next meeting.

There were only two submissions to the committee despite weeks of advertising in the media, and invitations to the political parties, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the Jamaica Council of Churches. Submissions came from the National Democratic Movement (NDM) and columnist Betty Ann Blaine, who both praised the performance of the ombudsman over the years, but suggested that it be accommodated within the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

Only five of the 11 members of the committee attended the meeting — Spencer (South East Clarendon), Dr Dayton Campbell (North West St Ann), Richard Parchment (South East St Elizabeth), Joylan Silvera (West St Mary) and Denise Daley (East St Catherine). Three of them — Campbell, Parchment and Silvera —  made it known that they have had enough of the Ombudsman, while Daley agreed with the chairman that Blair should be allowed to make his case.

Daley pointed to the fact that the terms of reference of the committee was to decide whether there was a need for the office.

Dr Campbell supported the proposal that the office should be subsumed into the ECJ."I cannot see why we need a referee to tell us how to behave," he insisted, claiming that the office was spending over $90 million over five years for six months' work.

Parchment said he had an "agenda" from the 10,000 voters from his constituency who elected him, that the money could be better spent. He also agreed that it could be subsumed into the ECJ.

"There are other means (of ensuring peaceful elections) and other remedies," he commented.

"I personally believe there should be some oversight committee," Daley suggested.

Silvera said that Jamaica was becoming "a civilised nation", and while he was aware of the political tribalism of the past, he saw no need for an ombudsman at this time.

"I do stand firmly on that. I believe that the office and the tenure has come to an end," Silvera said. "The problem is that we don't have the money to pay him and that is the stark reality right now."

Spencer said that, while the arguments were overwhelming, the members should consider whether they would not be doing a disservice to the ombudsman by refusing him the right to appear before the committee and seemed to be moving with "intemperate haste".

Blaine, in her submission, said that the ombudsman's office duplicated some of the functions of the ECJ, and only functioned for about six months during an election year, "an expense that the country cannot afford at this time".

The issue of Blair's future as political ombudsman, a post which is a commission of Parliament, was triggered by a motion in January from Opposition MP Everald Warmington (South West St Catherine) urging Parliament to review and revise the terms and objectives of the Office and to decide whether it should not be declared redundant, in light of the creation of the ECJ.

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