Ombudsman review ends in confusion

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter

Friday, September 28, 2012    

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PARLIAMENT'S Human Resources and Social Development Committee learnt yesterday that it had no right to be probing the role of the Office of the Political Ombudsman in the electoral process, some five months after it began its review.

Clerk to Parliament Heather Cooke threw the spanner in the works just minutes before the committee would have ended what could have been its final sitting, yesterday, at Gordon House, when she gave committee Chairman Rudyard Spencer the news.

The advice was from Parliament's legal adviser, Camika Facey, and was addressed to Spencer, but the chairman said it was the first time he was seeing it. He also noted that while the advice was that the committee should have reached a decision within 14 days of being formed, they were given several extensions, the last being up to October 16.

Cooke could not explain how the advice, dated July 17, was only reaching the committee 72 days later. She said she had tried to explain to Spencer that the committee had gone beyond its scope.

She noted that the advice of the House's legal counsel was that the sole purpose of the committee was to determine whether the subject matter should be submitted to Cabinet for further consideration, and that the committee only needed to answer that question.

"It is within the Cabinet's purview to determine and advise as to further actions regarding the subject matter," the advice said.

Members of the committee felt that they had wasted their time as well as the time of persons who had accepted their invitations to make submissions. These included executive director of the National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe, who had postponed a planned overseas trip yesterday to attend the meeting. He was accompanied by Carol Narcisse and Horace Levy, representing the Peace Management Initiative and the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition respectively.

Spencer said, however, that although the legal advice suggested that all that was necessary from the committee was a one-line response on whether the matter should be referred to Cabinet, he would table a comprehensive report in the House of Representatives.

The House had decided in April to refer to the committee a motion from Opposition MP Everald Warmington seeking to have the Ombudsman's office subsumed into the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

The motion proposed that Parliament review and revise the term and objectives of the Office of the Political Ombudsman with a view to determine its relevance to the existing political structure, and if the expenditure of the office is justified.





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