Is there need for a political ombudsman?Thursday, January 13, 2022
BY PETER A P GORDON
In my opinion, certain actions or utterances of politicians that invoke the ire of the political ombudsman are unnecessarily escalated by that office to the level of breaches. Additionally, the highlighting of these issues by the ombudsman seems to sensationalise them and draw unnecessary attention to matters that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by the general public.
Green kerb wall by Kingston Central Member of Parliament
In December 2021, a video clip was circulated in the media showing Kingston Central Member of Parliament (MP) Donovan Williams painting a kerb wall in his constituency with green paint. The colour used by the MP was not acceptable to the ombudsman and others, presumably because it is the colour aligned to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and there was concern that political tensions may develop if People's National Party (PNP) supporters responded unfavourably.
Undoubtedly, their reaction was well intended, but went overboard in my view. For so many years in Jamaica, perhaps decades, there have been no reported incidents of people clashing over political party colours. Presently, party supporters have greater tolerance and don't waste time fussing over objects with particular colours.
I am suggesting that, if a roadway or other government infrastructure is painted in colours contrary to what is expected based on law or tradition, then the National Works Agency (NWA) or a municipal council should be able to handle such a matter. That ought not to be an issue for the Office of the Political Ombudsman.
'Di likkle bwoi' remark by PNP president
It was reported in December 2021 that, during a political meeting, president of the PNP Mark Golding referred to Minister of Transport Robert Montague as “di likkle bwoi Montague”. Subsequently, the remark has evoked condemnation from certain sectors of the Jamaican society.
Frankly, comments of this type by the PNP president at a political meeting of his party should help to remove wrinkles from faces – people should simply listen to them and smile.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act, 2011 entitles everyone to freedom of expression, which includes politicians. Therefore, people should be allowed to express themselves based on their own conscience, albeit exercising prudence so as not to degrade themselves and to avoid defamatory and malicious assertions.
Referring to an adult man as a boy does not alter his adult status. Such a remark should not be deemed derogatory or in contravention of a regulation. If someone feels offended by such a label then a complaint to the person that erred should suffice.
Furthermore, Jamaican politics has progressed to an acceptable degree of civility, so platform presenters do not elicit violence against their opponents, and their party supporters attend these meetings for good news, promises, and merriment, not to convert words from the political stage into physical weapons against their opponents.
While we aim to hold our leaders to high standards, let us not try to modify their innate characteristics or stifle their use of harmless, vibrant, and colourful language.
Purpose of political ombudsman is questionable
One wonders about the necessity of a political ombudsman if addressing these trivial issues are part of the remit of that office.
During election campaigns, the ombudsman gets some of the candidates to sign a Political Code of Conduct, which provides guidelines for how political parties and candidates should operate during an election, and admonishes the political parties about the use of their party flags and other paraphernalia in public spaces.
It is my firm view that the signing or non-signing of this document makes little or no difference in the conduct of candidates and supporters in elections; so that formality can be scrapped.
And when it comes to party flags and other campaign apparatus, they seem permanent in some communities. Undesirable though they be, people pass them daily until they don't even notice them anymore. The National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), along with the municipal councils in each parish, should be responsible for keeping the country tidy.
Given the aforementioned, the question must be asked: Is there really a need for a political ombudsman?