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Review the law, Integrity Commission urges

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Review the law, Integrity Commission urges

Body also rejects PNP’s call for rethink of auditor general sitting as a commissioner

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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The five commissioners of the Integrity Commission are supporting calls for a review of the legislation governing its operations, but they have rejected Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips’s suggestion for a rethink of the auditor general being a member of the body.

The Integrity Commission Act of 2017 is slated to be reviewed five years after it was passed, but the commissioners have already decided that they want changes to Section 53(3), which prevents them from updating the public on matters they are investigating.

Under the legislation, “all matters under investigation by the director of investigations [of the Integrity Commission], 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”, until after it has concluded its investigation and its findings have been tabled in Parliament.

“We feel at the moment that we are trapped by the legislation in that it does not allow us to say anything and, at the same time, freedom of the press is such that the media say anything and everything — including falsehoods — which we cannot even try to respond to if we are to disclose matters relating to either situation.

“So that is one matter that has to be amended,” one of the commissioners, retired Justice Seymour Panton, told journalists at the commission’s first media briefing yesterday.

“I see where some persons are calling for aspects of the law to be amended, but they have not mentioned this aspect. But this is our first commitment, to ask for this part to be amended so that we can, at least sometimes, defend ourselves against the persons who clearly have interests,” added Panton.

At a recent media briefing Phillips, the president of the Opposition People’s National Party, argued that the review of the Integrity Commission Act be immediately undertaken, along with a review of the make-up of the corruption-prevention body.

According to Phillips, the Opposition is concerned about the inclusion of independent bodies such as the Auditor General’s Department on the Integrity Commission, especially where they will have a role to play in crafting reports.

But Panton defended the inclusion of Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis on the commission.

“In my view, and I think it is the view of the members of the commission, it is a misguided view to remove, or to think to remove, the auditor general from the commission,” said Panton.

He added: “The auditor general adds a necessary perspective in our deliberations as regards governmental procedures and in relation to misconduct by public officers in the conduct of public affairs. The auditor general has been on earlier commissions and no questions were raised then.

“The fact that there may be discomfort with one report should not be causing people to be putting forward the ridiculous idea of moving the auditor general off. There is no conflict of interest because the auditor general has to probe the same things and more; and if there is something before the commission that requires further in-depth attention, there is nothing to prevent the auditor general’s office from executing its duties,” added Panton.

The Integrity Commission is chaired by retired Justice Karl Harrison and includes former Contractor General Derrick McKoy, tax expert Eric Crawford, Panton, and Monroe Ellis.

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Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

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Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — Saudi Arabia yesterday began implementing a landmark reform allowing women over the age of 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male “guardian”, authorities said.

The reform, announced earlier this month, weakens the restrictive guardianship system that has long been a symbol of repression against women.

“The passport department has started receiving applications for women aged 21 and above to issue or renew passports and to travel outside the kingdom without permission,” the department said on Twitter.

Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male “guardians” — husband, father and other male relatives — for these tasks, a restriction that drew international censure.

The reform comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape alleged guardianship abuse despite a string of reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a landmark decree last year that overturned the world’s only ban on women drivers.

In other changes unveiled earlier this month, Saudi women were also granted the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be recognised as a guardian to children who are minors —same as men.

The reforms were widely celebrated in the kingdom, but they also drew backlash from arch-conservatives, many of whom shared old video sermons on social media by Saudi clerics advocating guardianship laws.

Some also denounced the change as “unIslamic” in a society that traditionally sees men as protectors of women.

The reform comes as the OPEC petroleum producer reels from low oil prices and seeks to boost employment opportunities for women — currently facing chronic joblessness.

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26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage

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26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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More than 220 Jamaicans have been awarded Chevening Scholarships since it was first introduced in 1983. Chevening is the United Kingdom Government’s global scholarship programme that offers future leaders the opportunity to study in the UK. This year, 19 outstanding young Jamaicans were selected for the scholarships. Over this week the Jamaica Observer will share the stories of some of the 2019-2020 awardees.

 

IT was Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey who said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” and this holds true for 2019/2020 Chevening Scholarship awardee Chantelle Richardson.

A special collections librarian at National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), Richardson will be undertaking a research-based fellowship on digitised archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean at The British Library.

When she completes her course of study, the 26-year-old, who is from Manchester, is determined to use her expertise to aid in the digital preservation of several Jamaican maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and photographs that are an integral part of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

“I am extremely passionate about preserving the nation’s irreplaceable cultural heritage, and I plan on using the knowledge and skills gained from the fellowship to tangibly digitise material unique to Jamaica and the world,” said Richardson, who describes herself as an avid reader and lover of all things Jamaican.

One of the major deliverables of this fellowship opportunity is to identify and liaise with a local partner institution to manage an Eccles Centre for American Studies-funded conference.

The theme of the conference will be based on Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) content, and will also include an element of training on applying to EAP for funding.

“I believe this will prove an essential step in helping to provide the necessary training for local bodies who manage cultural emblems,” Richardson stressed.

She also highlighted the fact that the NLJ houses the most extensive newspaper collection in the region, dating back to the 1700s, and the information on those pages is vital to the understanding of how life was in the past and how it can be made better for the future.

According to Richardson, the fellowship will also help to improve access to many resources housed at the NLJ and other regional institutions, through digitisation.

Richardson sees Chevening as an excellent medium through which young leaders, like herself, can come together to make meaningful changes in the society.

“My long-term objective is to aid the generation coming up to have a better appreciation for the contribution made by our forefathers and to actively engage in activities that will improve their lives.

“Upon returning to my country I also plan to execute a three-year developmental plan, which will engage persons in the library and information field, my community, and the wider society to improve the preservation of archival materials. In addition to the funded conference with training components, I will also strive to have information sessions, webinars, and social media campaigns aimed at preserving our cultural legacy,” said Richardson.

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Forest fires in Brazil surge as deforestation accelerates

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Forest fires in Brazil surge as deforestation accelerates

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Sao Paulo, Brazil (AFP) — The number of forest fires in Brazil surged in the first eight months of 2019, official data show, as President Jair Bolsonaro faces growing criticism over rampant destruction of the Amazon.

Nearly 73,000 fires were recorded between January and August, compared with 39,759 in all of 2018, the embattled National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said late Monday.

That is the highest number of forest fires for any year since 2013 and follows two years of declines.

“What we are seeing is a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures,” said Ricardo Mello of World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s Amazon Program.

Forest fires tend to intensify during the dry season, which usually ends in late October or early November, as land is cleared to make way for crops or grazing.

The INPE figures show fires have been concentrated in States occupying the Amazon.

Thick smoke has blanketed several cities in recent days and even caused a commercial flight to be diverted.

The data comes as Bolsonaro faces growing criticism over his anti-environment rhetoric, which activists blame for emboldening loggers, miners and farmers in the Amazon.

Norway on Thursday joined Germany in halting Amazon protection subsidies, accusing Brazil of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.

The governors of nine States spanning the Amazon also published a statement on Sunday saying they would negotiate directly with the Amazon Fund contributors.

The latest INPE figures coincide with a United Nations (UN) regional meeting on climate change in Brazil ahead of December’s summit in Chile.

INPE is already in Bolsonaro’s crosshairs over data showing a surge in deforestation in recent months.

Bolsonaro dismissed the figures as lies and sacked the head of the agency tasked with tracking forest clearing.

Brazil leads the region in forest fires this year, according to the INPE data that is collected via satellite and updated in realtime.

Venezuela ranked second with 26,453 fires and Bolivia with 16,101.

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