Public defender tags PICA, RGD, Criminal Records Office for causing J'cans most pain
In this June 2022 file photo a crowd of Jamaicans waits outside the Criminal Records Office on Duke Street, downtown Kingston, for service.

PUBLIC Defender Herbert McKenzie has called out the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA), the Registrar General's Department (RGD) and the Criminal Records Office for being the State agencies causing the public the most pain.

McKenzie, who was participating in a panel discussion put on by the Office of the Political Ombudsman in recognition of its 20th anniversary on Monday, said the three were examples of agencies which "hold themselves out and advertise the type of services they deliver that must be consistent with what is delivered".

"I use those as examples because there is no shortage of complaints at the public defender's office with respect to those authorities. The commonest one we get, and it applies to all three, you pay for a service advertised at, for argument's sake, $8,000 and you get the service or the item in three days; $10,000 or $15,000 you get it in 24-48 hours. Far too often citizens pay the prescribed sum for these guaranteed services and at the end of the period they are nowhere closer to getting it than before they approached the entity," McKenzie told the conference.

According to the public defender, "it's the quality of the service and the standard that is important".

In this 2015 file photo large numbers of Jamaicans awaiting service stand outside the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency office on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew.

"It happens at the police station — you go to give a simple statement and it's a whole day affair. You go to any of the revenue offices to do one transaction and you have to write off a day from the job," he noted further.

The public defender, in the meantime, said the treatment of citizens at both the RGD and the Criminal Records Office locations in downtown Kingston leaves much to be desired.

"At Duke Street here, there is a police records office not too far from the RGD and the way people are housed, accommodated, and treated just to get the service... it's almost disgraceful because the two offices are across from each other, and the crowds merge and Duke Street is clogged with vehicular and pedestrian traffic. I always ask myself 'What if rain starts falling on these tax-paying people? What would they do?' " McKenzie lamented.

Said the public defender: "Every agency of government that dispenses a service, you can say that about them; standards is what we need."

Just this month, Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson claimed there has been less crowding outside the Criminal Records Office on Duke Street in downtown Kingston after improvements were made to its system of application and certificate collection. During the Jamaica Constabulary Force's monthly press conference the commissioner announced a new online application platform which has reduced the need for people to apply in person, among other changes.

In the meantime, giving an overview of the overall number of complaints addressed by the Office of the Public Defender in the last four and a half years, McKenzie said there were 303 in 2018, 259 in 2019, 176 in 2020, 287 in 2021, and 162 so far since the beginning of this year up to July.

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

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