Wed | Jul 24, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | That's stupid!

Published:Monday | December 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We are using the political process that was meant to keep us free to constitute the strongest shackle fettering national development. That's stupid!

Last Tuesday's final sitting of the House of Representatives was preceded with one highly placed member calling the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee a political whore for daring to do his duty to convene a meeting to ventilate the corruption at Petrojam and, hopefullly, set the stage for correction.

Then there followed 45 minutes of bedlam, with Karl Samuda trying to defend his successful effort to close down the revealing and embarrassing Petrojam exposÈ, while Mark Golding completely floored the prime minister by itemising the entirely appropriate steps that were taken to set up the committee meeting - not by him, but by the officers of the State.

There was no mix-up of communication, Mr Prime Minister, as you weakly concluded, but a deliberate effort to prevent further talk on Petrojam, so damaging every new revelation is, until the defending troops can be gathered to shout down and deflect the process. Just watch what happens in January. And by the way, please let us know what authority you have to require that the Speaker investigate and report on the issue.

The Government's back bench nearly burst a blood vessel when, in a rare display of independence, Speaker Charles intoned, "Minister Samuda has no such authority," that is, to close down the sitting of a parliamentary committee. How dare he let down the side by speaking the truth, was the unspoken response as the opposition benches cheered!

The public must ask why it was that the parliamentary staff surrendered to illigitimate pressure and withdrew from the committee. I detect a tendency for that bureaucracy to be afraid of the indisputable pressure on them by the present Government to muzzle any forum where they may be criticised.

While all this was going on, there was a group of preschool children in the gallery, soaking up the lessons about disrespect and disorderly behaviour that were being acted out downstairs by the honourables and most honourables. Mercifully, their teachers, no doubt fearing contagion, took them away quickly.

Then, too, the football team from Clarendon College was present, young men schooled to obey the strict sporting rules of the game, who travelled all the expensive way from Chapelton, bearing their trophies of skilful play, to be unforgettably educated on how the highest court of the land expresses contest, competition and the use of power. This is beyond stupidity.

The inefficiency and bad example of Parliament should be high among the agenda items about which the private sector is insisting that the two political sides must meet and resolve. For some of us, it is humiliating that it is the business class who has to be chastening us to attempt consensus. Because, once again last week, on the most serious issues of personal freedoms and national security, members, without any prior cross-party consultation, were asked to continue the suspension of law, the dragnet of largely innocent youth, without any justification other than that murders are decreasing; not even the skeleton analysis of a crime plan and nothing about the vital investment in social reconstruction.

Just keep the suppression going was the message: anything else must be treachery and 'bad mind'.

 

NIS inadequate

 

Less noted but of crucial import was Nigel Clarke's acknowledment that at the present level of contribution, the National Insurance Scheme will continue to offer inadequate benefits and will lurch into insolvency.

The proposed new tariff of contributions will help, but will they be enough to save what is, for many Jamaicans, their only source of income in retirement?

Surely, we should be provided with copies of the recent audit report for the NIF. For isn't the real problem the relatively small number of contributors to the scheme? And what measures are being taken to include the informal economy in social security?

At every sitting, annual reports, including accounts of how billions of public funds are spent by government agencies, public companies and ministries are announced as being tabled. There is no systematic procedure for tracking and examining these valuable tools of accountability.

The fact is that nobody really cares. Any entity that is inexcusably late in submitting annual reports should be prevented from receiving further subventions and from spending more public funds until their situation has been rectified.

The debacle at Petrojam and the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica could have been avoided if their reports and accounts had been on time and were subject to proper scrutiny by a dedicated committee of Parliament, poorly staffed and resourced. Neither the PAAC nor the PAC is up to that task, as currently constituted, and the auditor general is only enabled to audit a small sample each year.

These concerns were dismissed in the contentious melee last Tuesday by both Speaker and membership. Too many political feathers would be ruffled. I fear that billions are being wasted. That is both irresponsible and stupid.

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