The Gavel: Sectoral Debate - the bright and not-so-bright
If there were doubts as to whether quality presentations can be made in the Sectoral Debate without members of parliament being on their feet for upwards of two hours, think again.
The revamped debate, which ended last week, demonstrated that members do not have to be eternal in their presentations to make meaningful points. Members got 45 minutes, in the case of Government, and 30, in the case of Opposition. The format worked.
And the fact that the debate was limited to ministers of government (such a pity it was felt that it was necessary for Junior Minister Arnaldo Brown to speak) and opposition spokesmen went a far way in repairing the image of the debate being an aimless talk shop where just about anyone could ramble for hours.
The Sectoral Debate saw several useful suggestions being advanced by the Opposition, which, if taken on board, could assist in moving the country forward.
Dr Horace Chang, for example, the spokesman on water and housing, recommended the part privatisation of the National Water Commission, as well as having the National Housing Trust retreat from the construction of houses, acting solely as financier. Those suggestions are worthy of consideration and should be put to a parliamentary committee for examination.
Similarly, Dr Andrew Wheatley's proposal for a work-from-home initiative for some specific public-sector workers, using broadband and various other technologies, is also worthy of discussion.
Desmond McKenzie resurrected the idea of tapping the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) for resources to buy a fire boat for the resort area of Ocho Rios. The suggestion is impatient of debate in as much as the use of TEF money to undertake the Kingston corridor improvement project should be a no-brainer. Sorry, Shahine Robinson, can't understand your objection.
One can only hope that the omission of the Opposition's contribution to the debate by Dr Wykeham McNeill when he closed last Wednesday is not an indication that suggestions put on the table by the Opposition are gone with the wind. That would be a pity.
It would also be a pity if Ed Bartlett, the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, takes another shot at using any derivative of the word 'mendacious'.
Bartlett will be remembered for his contribution to the new-look debate, but for the wrong reason. Perhaps having fallen in love with the term 'mendacious', which has become a staple on the political hustings, Bartlett tried his hands at it and found himself pants down.
"We can no longer remain complacent with an inordinate level of dependency of aid, because growth generation at the national level must be at the centre of our foreign-policy thrust. The overtly mendacious approach to development is no longer viable," Bartlett said as he contributed to the debate last Wednesday.
Oh my, Bartlett actually meant 'mendicancy'! Perhaps he should have stuck with Bruce Golding's famous "cap-in-hand" expression.
IMPORTANT ISSUES TOUCHED
Bartlett aside, the Government should be commended for using the debate to shed light on areas of critical national importance. The issue of Cuba and Jamaica's tourism product, the divestment of the Kingston Container Terminal and Norman Manley International Airport are examples of matters that were brought rightfully to the table during the debate.
But the decision by Horace Dalley, the minister who has responsibility for the public sector and wage negotiations, to hide from the debate short-changed the nation.
The Sectoral Debate aside, the important vote on the Caribbean Court of Justice is to take place in the House of Representatives today. The Government has two-thirds majority there, and is almost guaranteed to succeed in getting it passed.
The issue will be at the Senate level, where it needs to swing at least one senator, or the efforts to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the CCJ will come to naught. There are suggestions that the Government should delay the vote and seek to get the Opposition to give in from its hard-line 'referendum necessary' position.
Not only do I not believe issues of the judiciary should be exposed to the political process, but it would be irresponsible for the Government to ignore the mandate it got at the polls in December 2011.
Making the CCJ Jamaica's final appellate court was part of the People's National Party manifesto, and the people voted and handed the PNP a 42-21 win in the 63-seat House in the general election. The Government has a responsibility to deliver.