Halshane Burke reports
By Nakinskie Robinson
The Senate, in its final sitting for this parliamentary year on Friday afternoon, passed the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Amendment Act, seemingly bringing to a close days of heated back and forth between the Parliamentary Opposition and the Government.
Prior to the passage of the Act, Opposition senators reaffirmed the stance of their lower house counterparts, that the responsibilities of the Political Ombudsman should not be subsumed by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.
Leader of Opposition Business Senator Peter Bunting argued during the debate that the roles of the ECJ and the Political Ombudsman are complementary but not the same and therefore need to remain divisible.
He suggested an alternative which he said would be more efficient.
"We could have that body as another option for a successor to the Office of the Political Ombudsman, whether we call it the Political Disputes Authority, the Political Ombudsman Authority, but not taking the same [ECJ] selected members and pulling them at the busiest time when you are in or approaching a political campaign - and that's the most intense period of activity, that's when the election monitoring centre is established etc. and we're setting up the commission to fail at this election," he contended.
Fellow Opposition Senator Damion Crawford suggested that the move to integrate both offices required open consultations.
"If you want to call a joint select committee so that the public can also have their own say, we would buy into that. We would buy into that so that the civil society can have their own say, and they're not represented. We'll buy into that so that the UIC can have their own say, and they were not at that consultation. So it's a weak argument to suggest that back door consultations between the few should make such an institution with such importance to the many, be changed with the risk of being depleted," Mr. Crawford noted.
As the debate drew to a close, the Upper House erupted when government Senator Aubyn Hill rose to respond to the opposition, highlighting Senator Bunting's comments in 2022 which asked that the implementation of the Act's proposed amendments be fast tracked.
He urged Senator Bunting to maintain his previous stance.
Meanwhile, when the Senate was instructed by President Tom Tavares-Finson to consider the bill clause by clause, Opposition Senator Lambert Brown proposed an amendment to clause 2 which would see a committee of three prominent Jamaicans being established to assume the roles of the Political Ombudsman, instead of the ECJ.
But this was rejected.
In the early stage of the sitting, as Senator Aubyn Hill closed his piloting of the bill, the opposition called for a divide.
The call for a divide allowed members to vote on whether the bill should be debated today or be postponed.
But in what was almost a deadlock, with an 8-7 vote in favour of the government to suspend the standing orders, the debate proceeded.
Parliament will be prorogued on February 13. A new parliamentary year will begin on February 15 with the ceremonial opening and the delivery of the Throne Speech by the Governor General.