Senate president stops Opposition's quest to discuss chik-V, Ebola
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
SENATE PRESIDENT Floyd Morris yesterday shot down an attempt by the parliamentary Opposition to discuss urgent public-health matters of national importance, stating that the issue was "contentious", and would not be allowed on the floor of the Senate.
Morris made the ruling after Tom Tavares-Finson, leader of opposition business, rose to speak on the adjournment of the Senate, which is allowable under the standing orders of the House.
"You asked me about the matter earlier and I indicated that based on the nature of the matter that you intend to raise, that I would not allow it in the Senate, because it is a very contentious matter and what the country needs now is a unification of all forces - all stakeholders - to fight this particular disease," Morris said.
He added: "I cannot, therefore, allow you to raise that motion."
Tavares-Finson, however, said the matter he intended to raise is "the question of the public-health crisis that the country finds itself in. I am not limiting my suggestion to any particular disease, any 'chikunveria' or whatever".
"What I am saying is that the country is facing a public-health crisis and it needs to be discussed," Tavares-Finson said.
Jamaica has been hard hit by the chikungunya virus (chik-V), which unleashes pain and rash on its victims. Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, who is under pressure for the handling of the situation, has said up to 60 per cent of Jamaicans could be affected by the mosquito-borne illness.
As Jamaicans become hobbled by chikungunya, the deadly Ebola, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives in west Africa, has shown up in the United States.
Under the rules of the Senate, motions that are to be raised on the adjournment must be cleared by the president before the Senate sitting begins. The president shall refuse to allow the claim unless he is satisfied that the matter is definite, urgent and of public importance, and may properly be raised on a motion for the adjournment of the Senate.
CANNOT CHANGE MIDSTREAM
Morris said that while Tavares-Finson approached him, the matter he said he intended to raise on the adjournment was specific to chik-V.
"You raised, before me, that you wanted to discuss a matter relating to chikungunya … . You cannot in midstream want to change what you wanted to raise, and based on that, this Honourable Senate stands adjourned," Morris said, as he forcefully brought his wooden gavel down on the table, signaling the end of business for the day.
Earlier, at the start of the proceedings, Senator Robert Montague, who is chairman of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, attempted to introduce the public-health issue to the Senate but was stopped in his tracks by Morris.
"Am I to take it that there are no statements by ministers, not even the minister with responsibility for information with regards to the preparation for Ebola?" Montague queried.
Morris responded that he has passed that matter on the agenda as there is no statement. Montague, however, seemed determined to speak and despite the insistence of Morris that he sits, the opposition senator, in defiance, said he is "a little surprised that there is no statement in preparing the nation for the impending epidemic".
The Senate president told Montague that he was in breach of the standing orders, but while apologising, Montague remained on his feet in breach of the rules, to press home his disappointment.
"Jamaicans are terrified, frightened and scared about the prospects of Ebola entering our land, and we would want to be prepared as a nation," Montague said before relenting.