Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Editorial | Recalling MPs

Published:Thursday | August 2, 2018 | 12:10 AM

A week ago, the British parliament suspended the Northern Ireland MP Ian Paisley for 30 sitting days, starting September 4. It is the longest disbarment of a member ever recorded in the Commons. Mr Paisley has also been suspended by the Democratic Unionist Party, which was founded by the late radical Protestant politician and preacher, Ian Paisley, Sr.

The suspension was the recommendation of the Commons Committee on Standards which found Mr Paisley guilty of bringing the House into disrepute for accepting luxury holidays from the Sri Lankan authorities in 2013, worth more than £50,000, without reporting the 'gift' to the Commons register. At the same time, he had lobbied the British government to block attempts at the United Nations to open an international investigation into allegations of atrocities by the Sri Lankan army against the Tamil minority during the country's long civil war, especially towards its end. Not only was the cost of Mr Paisley's luxury holidays many multiples above the reporting threshold, the Standards Committee deemed Mr Paisley's approach to Downing Street on the proposed UN investigation as that of a paid lobbyist for the Sri Lankan government.

Unfortunately for Mr Paisley, his suspension is not the only punishment he may face. He could yet lose his Commons seat for North Antrim in Belfast.

His suspension, for the first time, triggered the recall clauses in a 2015 legislation aimed at combating sleaze in the British parliament. Once a recall petition is formally opened, campaigners will have six weeks to gain a minimum of 7,547 votes, or 10 per cent of the registered voters in North Antrim, to force a by-election in a constituency that Mr Paisley first won in 2010 and retained in last year's general election with 20,643 votes. Mr Paisley has said that if a by-election takes place he will contest it, and he would most likely win in a constituency that has been represented by a Paisley for 48 years.

This issue has relevance to Jamaica on two separate, though related, fronts.

Mostly, immediately, it is coincidental with Jamaica's long-standing and ongoing debate over public corruption, which was further highlighted by this week's resignation from the Cabinet of the former energy, science and technology minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley, over allegations of cronyism and poor management at several agencies within his portfolio. There were no claims of illegality against Dr Wheatley himself, but he said he stepped aside for investigations to take place without his presence.

 

Matter of non-performing MPs

 

Then there is the matter of what constituents ought to do about poor-performing MPs, other than having to wait five years to vote in a general election. It was with regard to this issue that former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, during his 1995-2002 hiatus from the Jamaica Labour Party, when he formed the National Democratic Movement, canvassed, and seemed to gain substantial public support for the recall of parliamentarians on the basis of petitions by constituents.

While there is no specific legislation, like the UK's register of gifts, to publicly monitor the integrity of MPs, Jamaica's Parliament can sanction, and even suspend, misbehaving members. However, the provisions for how a member can lose his seat are set out in the Constitution, at section 41, which would have to be amended before a recall bill could be accommodated.

Perhaps it is time to revisit this issue in Jamaica. We might, say, have a higher bar than Britain's suspension of 14 days or 10 setting days for the automatic trigger of a recall petition. We could also set the threshold for the petition to succeed at maybe 50 per cent plus one of a constituency's registered voters, rather than the UK's 10 per cent. The floor is open to debate.