Editorial | One MP making a difference
Advocacy has a distinct role to play in bringing injustice to the fore and influencing change. Opposition Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson has demonstrated brilliantly how parliamentary advocacy can effectively benefit ordinary citizens.
Mr Jackson initiated a private member's motion in Parliament to amend the 2014 Banking Services Act because he was concerned about the exorbitant fees being charged by commercial banks for services rendered to customers, including for the maintenance of accounts. He had bipartisan support for his bill, which is a necessary ingredient in the legislative journey from bill to law.
He was relentless in his advocacy and made a compelling case for review of these charges. Mr Jackson is seeking to have the Bank of Jamaica regulate the fees charged by commercial banks. He met with the bankers themselves and laid out his arguments forcefully. He defended his position even in the face of arguments by the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the Jamaica Bankers' Association that it would be a retrograde step to regulate banks.
Customer outcry about increased bank charges since 2013 had fallen on deaf ears. The banks continued to pile on more charges for maintaining accounts and for specific transactions such as cheque clearance and funds transfer.
Mr Jackson's advocacy created a great deal of publicity around the issue, as he called for members of the public to get their elected members of parliament to support provisions of his bill. Already, we see that fees to manage dormant accounts have been suspended with immediate effect by the leading banks in the country, amid a general review of their fee-charging mechanism.
It is clear that parliamentary representatives, especially backbenchers, can do more to highlight some of the big issues that have continued to hamper the country's development and growth. And even if they are not successful in their bid to change the law, they will at least change the national conversation. Jamaicans want nothing more than a peaceful existence and access to health, education and economic opportunities, and they look to the parliamentary leadership to create changes in the way we live.
Parliament can exercise tremendous influence to achieve the progress that has eluded this nation. It can begin with the 63 elected parliamentarians becoming champions to end poverty in Jamaica. Many of the issues that challenge us can be highlighted and hopefully tackled with the introduction of more private member's bills and through vigorous debates. One likely outcome is that these debates will influence government policies and may even realign priorities.
In the future, we suggest that more time be allotted to private member's motions in Parliament, for a robust agenda of issues would ensure that they truly fulfil the role of representatives of the electorate.
However, for the full effect of such advocacy to be felt in the wider society, MPs must be present and engaged in the activities of Parliament each week. The most visible role that an MP is called on to play is that of legislator. The citizens whom they represent want them to help them achieve their desire for effective and functional government.