Disabled by secrecy
JAMP says Integrity Commission Act gag clause limits its ability to assist political ombudsman
CALDER... we have a situation where there seems to be some element of secrecy built into the Integrity Commission Act (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

JAMAICA Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP), the non-government, not-for-profit entity dedicated to improved governance here, says because of "secrecy" required under the so-called gag clause in the Integrity Commission Act, it has been unable to honour an invitation by Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment-Brown for it to do more than track parliamentarians on its portal.

Jeanette Calder, executive director of JAMP, made the disclosure during a panel discussion staged by the Office of the Political Ombudsman in recognition of its 20th anniversary on Monday.

According to Calder, Parchment-Brown had issued the invitation in 2019 when JAMP was launched.

"She mentioned that she was aware that JAMP has building tools to make it easier for citizens to get information. She said this tracker is going to have to grow, and if it is the direction you are going to take it in ... if you are going to have an MP profile page for every parliamentarian, I would like to see you begin to track things like their compliance with this office, with this Act, with the campaign financing, with the code of political conduct. She gave me that charge and we never forgot about it," Calder said.

JAMP is known for its MP tracker, which gives citizens information on how to find their Members of Parliament, provides information on how politicians use their Constituency Development Fund, and scores them for their attendance at Parliament. It also indicates which of the MPs have declared their assets, as required by law.

Section 53(3) of the Integrity Commission Act states that, "Until the tabling in Parliament of a report under Section 36, all matters under investigation by the director of investigation, or any other person involved in such investigation, shall be kept confidential and no report or public statement shall be made by the commission or any other person in relation to the initiation or conduct of an investigation under this Act."

On Monday Calder argued that Jamaica needs to move beyond the current interim Act.

"We have a situation where the political ombudsman will be asked to address things — whether by the citizen or a politician — but we have a situation where there seems to be some element of secrecy built into that Act, because my understanding is that if the ombudsman doesn't get a signal from a parliamentarian that this is something that can be made public, my understanding is that there is a limit to what the ombudsman can say.

"Now, there is success in the meeting rooms and in the mediation but we as a people would like to know that we came close to a particular situation, or a particular representative behaved in a particular way — because these are the things I would like to take into consideration when I get to the ballot box," Calder said.

"So, here is an example of one of the things that JAMP would have wanted to do with the invitation of Mrs Parchment-Brown, but again, there's a block in transparency, a continuation of secrecy, and there is a strengthening of the legislation that needs to be done," Calder lamented.

In the meantime, she said the organisation was building out its portal with three more trackers designed to give citizens added tools to manage politicians, who are essentially "their employees".

She also lauded the work of the Office of the Political Ombudsman, saying it was instrumental in keeping politically induced violence in Jamaica at bay.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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