The Government's announcement this week that it was not going to renew Donna Parchment Brown's position as Jamaica's ombudsman was no surprise to me because it is revving up its engine to call an election.
However, with the announcement by Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck that the Office of the Political Ombusdman would be subsumed under the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (EOJ), one has got to wonder if the powers that be have lost rationality. This in my mind leaves a few questions that beg to be asked. Who is going to police this new entity? What will be required of it under the new Act? How will they successfully execute this process without tainting the validity, veracity, non-partiality, and purity of the office. This is like amalgamating milk with coffee and not expecting to have a colour change.
Of all the government entities in Jamaica, none should be as politically neutral as the EOJ. I am beginning to wonder if the new strain of the American virus "Trumpantitis" is spreading to Jamaica. Let's not, once again, make a mess of our political climate with this merger. It is nonsensical and the powers that be need to go back to the drawing board and reconsider this folly. We have improved our political culture so much since the 1980s and, therefore, we should not implement political systems that could signal a reverse. We really need a system that allows for checks and balances impartially.
When the ombudsman's office was created in 2002 it was designed to address some of the grave challenges that the country had been facing and protect the rights of its citizenry without a tinge of political bias.
Reverend Hero Blair brought dignity to the position and as a clergyman he was viewed as non-political, and I am not able to recall anyone being able to point a finger of bias at him.
Attorney-at-law Parchment Brown was the next standard-bearer appointed to the post and as an accomplished attorney brought the office to another level. My assessment is that she was doing yeoman's work in addressing the hot-button issues, but, alas, the Government is fixing what's not broken and in the process making a wrong move to de-sanitise the EOJ. Why? We need the department to stay where it is so that "the ombudsman [can be] a champion of social justice and human rights".
I read A J Nicholson's speech, made sometime ago at a Caribbean conference to address the role of the political ombudsman, and his words were apt: "The Ombudsman's office was established solely for the purpose of giving assistance to persons who believed that they have suffered injustices at the hands of public officers employed by government agencies and departments as a result of maladministration. Examples of maladministration are unnecessary delays, bias, failure to follow proper procedures, negligence, wrong decisions, and improper service." If this was the purpose for which the office was designed, then can't we see that there is an unholy wedlock between these entities that is going to end in an unholy deadlock.
According to the statutes, "The political ombudsman has a significant degree of independence and is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individuals." This function should not be mixed up with the EOJ. Minister Chuck, leave the EOJ to conduct local government elections, parliamentary elections and referenda, monitor electoral funding and financial disclosure requirements, and determine polling division and constituency boundaries.
I trust that all in the public square will make their voices heard so that this marriage will not take place. If anyone can show just cause why this union should not take place, speak now or else forever there will be no peace.
Burnett L Robinson