Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Deliberate neglect?

Published:Monday | May 15, 2017 | 5:00 AM
Ian/Allen An impassioned Fitz Jackson, MP for South St Catherine, in Gordon House last Tuesday.

Fitz Jackson is a good parliamentarian. From the back bench, with a sly smile and well-timed passion, his commanding voice can demolish some of the annoying, self-absorbed nonsense that wastes so much of Gordon House's time.

Unlike many, Fitz has a record of taking committee work seriously, whether he sits on the right or left of the House Speaker. And he has clearly earned and deserved the confidence of the electorate in South St Catherine, who routinely return him to represent them.

For more than three years, with his dogged insistence that customers of Jamaican banks should be protected by law from being fleeced of their own money by usurious bank fees, Jackson has been attempting to do what all of us are elected to do: that is, to pass good laws to protect and advance the interests of ordinary citizens.

And what an odyssey it has been. The struggle began with careful research and committee work and the crafting of common cause with the likes of Karl Samuda and Audley Shaw. Taking on the powerful banks who control the hard-wrought resources of the Jamaican people can be perilous, both personally and politically. They are the new 'bushas' of the Jamaican plantation.

Modest though the requirements of the minimum service contract proposed by Jackson are, the banks have toyed with the lawmakers up to now, even in some instances increasing the fees while the change of the law is being canvassed, until arm-twisted by rising public pressure, most have 'suspended' the oppressive and arguably illegal withdrawals from inactive accounts, yet said nothing about restoring with interest the monies taken up to now.

After all, reasonableness and ethics should have caused the banking cabal to have come to the table with their own accommodating proposals long before now. They are reacting with indifference and scorn, as did the West Indian planters, satraps of imperial owners, to the modest proposals for ameliorating slavery two centuries ago.

Fitz Jackson, until recently, has waged a lonely struggle and expended his own time and resources to redress the extraction of wealth from the poor to the rich. He has had a bill drafted without the help that the official structures of the State ought to have offered for this obviously worthy cause.

As if this were not enough, this bill has suffered what many consider deliberate neglect in the process of Parliament. This matter should have been given 'Gun Court' priority. It has taken months to get it on the Order Paper and then more delays again to get to the debate, while the vote is yet to be taken.

I hope that not a single member will embarrass themselves by failing to support Fitz's bill when the revised version comes to the floor in two to three weeks. Let us not countenance any move to dilute it by reference to some anticipated study about bank fees.

The raw facts are that, denied the enormous interest rates of the ages of excessive government borrowing and convinced that super profits are equivalent to the beatific vision, despite the largest spreads in the hemisphere, fees for basic and non-existent services have been mulcted.

Nothing said so far in the drawn-out Sectoral Debate has offered more immediate relief from financial rape and offered greater redress and justice from the powerful to the powerless than the provisions of what, in American style, should soon come to be called the Jackson Act.

There is a lesson, too, for the 20 or more representatives who are virtual ministers of silence, saying nothing, cowering under the hollow rule of the House leadership and failing to contribute to the Parliament being no longer a rubber stamp of Cabinet hegemony but a place of productive ferment and bold steps in the people's cause.

Fitz Jackson is showing that you don't have to be a minister to make an excellent contribution to governance.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.