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Political ombudsman still probing Portland Eastern vote-buying allegations

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 21, 2019

POLITICAL Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown is not yet ready to clear the political parties of vote-buying in the April 4 parliamentary by-election in Portland Eastern.

Most of the allegations of vote-buying have come from the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) which has accused the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of inducing people with gifts and money to vote for its victorious candidate Ann-Marie Vaz .

But the JLP has charged that the PNP is just a sore loser as its candidate Damion Crawford failed to excite the people of Portland Eastern and there was no need to pay people to vote for Vaz, who dubbed herself “Action Ann”.

Late last week Parchment Brown told the Jamaica Observer that her office is concerned when elections are conducted in a way that breaches the law, or the Political Code of Conduct and it is taking the allegations very seriously.

“This is one of the reasons I was concerned about the many reports, and the few complaints regarding vote-buying in the east Portland by-election,” said Parchment Brown.

“I have received some information, some information I have shared with other authorities to ask them to do the special investigation and my office, using the team of liaison officers, is doing a broad-based review of many activities in that constituency.

“Some of these activities touch on vote-buying, whether by virtue of giving work in a particular situation where work was not properly authorised, or by assisting people with funds in exchange for their vote,” added Parchment Brown.

She said her office received complaints even on the election day and photographs of places where it was alleged that money was paid over to voters.

“We may find that none of this can be substantiated, we may find that no one is charged, but it is important to understand what went on and it is important to get as much information as possible because there are future elections and we must guard our democracy against future vote buying,” said Parchment Brown.

So far there are no reports from the police who are probing the allegations which Parchment Brown noted includes those which were made by representatives of the political parties.

According to Parchment Brown she hopes to complete her probe within the next month and the findings will benefit her office and will be shared with the political parties.

The Office of the Political Ombudsman recently launched its website which it is expecting will make it easier for the public to submit allegations and information on electoral activities, including vote-buying.

Visitors to the website, www.opo.gov.jm, will be able to get news, notices and alerts; information about political code of conduct signings, elections and pieces of legislation.

“Users will also be able to upload videos and participate in meaningful discussions on important topics,” said Parchment Brown.

She added that the website will serve to “provide visitors with an easier way to interact with the office and provide information and complaints anonymously.

Parchment Brown noted that the website addresses issues such as defamation, which is becoming more prevalent in the digital space, the vilification of opponents, and fake news.