Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Not so fast, Senator Morris!

Published:Monday | October 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Brown Burke

I am still looking through the Standing Orders of the Senate and still cannot find where it states that the president can prevent a senator from rising at the adjournment to speak on a matter of urgent national importance, on the grounds that the matter is contentious.

Floyd Morris, the Senate president, used such an argument to prevent Tom Tavares-Finson, the leader of opposition business in the Senate, from speaking last Friday.

"You asked me about the matter earlier and I indicated that, based on the nature of the matter that you intend to raise, 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.

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.

Tavares-Finson said that the matter he intended to raise is "the question of the public health crisis that the country finds itself in".

No doubt the crippling effects that chikungunya has been having on the country and the fact that Ebola has reached the United States, considered Jamaica's doorstep, would have influenced the decision of the opposition.

But one wonders if the situation rises to the level of urgency that would necessitate raising it in the Senate where the health minister does not sit. If Morris had allowed Tavares-Finson to go ahead, what would the discussions have achieved?

Based on Morris' statement, it seems clear that Tavares-Finson knew he would not have been entertained at the adjournment. If this is the case, the senator, in rising, was playing to the gallery in pretty much the same way his colleague Robert Montague did at the start of business on Friday. I hope this is not the case, because the last thing we want is for a serious public health matter to be used as a political football.

Morris erred

That said, however, the fact that the matter is contentious should have no bearing on the decision to not allow the motion on the adjournment to be brought to the floor. Morris erred, and erred badly, if that was really his basis for preventing the motion.

But lawmakers do not always get it wrong.

Angela Brown Burke, while contributing to the debate, called for the relocation of Jamaica Public Service (JPS) poles from the nation's sidewalks. The Government senator noted that these light poles make it difficult for persons, especially the disabled, to use the sidewalks.

There should be no debate about this matter. While being aware that the Government is working on a policy which will speak to the way in which utility companies use public resources such as roads and sidewalks, The Gavel takes the position that the country should not await such policy.

The JPS should be required, on a phased basis, to relocate its poles from the sidewalks. This relocation should not be a charge on either the taxpayer or the customers of the public service company.

During a recent meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, the National Works Agency (NWA) disclosed that while the JPS does not pay to use the sidewalks, in the event that the agency has to relocate the poles, the cost has to be borne by the NWA. That, too, should stop.

Meanwhile, a matter that should concern every well thinking Jamaicans is the manner in which the Ministry of Labour and Social Security breached the Civil Service Establishment Act by employing more persons than is provided for under the Act, which dictates the number and types of posts within government entities.

"We compared the approved establishment of the [labour] ministry with the payroll and found that the ministry employed 224 persons in excess of the approved staff complement. The ministry reported that the positions were authorised; however, the requisite approval from the Ministry of Finance was not presented," Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said in a 2013 report.

But as if the breach was not bad enough, Permanent Secretary Alvin McIntosh turned up at last week sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament seeking to justify his actions.

Acting PAC Chairman Everald Warmington had raised the matter of a surcharge for McIntosh as a result of the breach.

"Surcharge for what? For getting the job done?"

That was the response of McIntosh, who before going on to explain that many essential services offered to Jamaicans by his ministry, as well as the overseas work programme, would have been negatively affected if he had not recruited the staff that was urgently needed.

What gall!

To have a public servant - not an ordinary one but a permanent secretary, who is the chief accounting officer in the ministry, ignore the rules relating to hiring of staff, is scandalous. He should not be allowed to just refine policy and rules as he feels. That's not his remit.

Transfer of workers

Thankfully, public-sector reform will force us to adapt to a human-resource management system, which will allow for the effective management of the public sector. This system will allow for the number and competence of all persons employed in the public sector to be available at the click of a button. If used property, it could result in the transfer of workers from one place where there is an oversupply to an area where the skills are in demand. This could reduce the need for unnecessary hiring and may be an antidote to McIntosh-type behaviour.

On another note, I mentioned the name Everald Warmington earlier. Briefly, I would like to examine his contribution to the debate on the bill to amend the Representation of the People Act to allow for political party registration and state funding of parties.

Warmington, in being consistent with his argument that the State should not be putting money into political parties, did himself an injustice when he stated that people who cannot afford to fund an election campaign should not get involved in politics. It is a most unfortunate suggestion which, I believe, could hurt the position of those of us who believe that the State is too pervasive and its influence should be curtailed.

Notwithstanding the argument from D.K. Duncan, the East Hanover MP, who said that greater regulations and funding limits from donors could make parties inoperable, The Gavel maintains that the State is already making a significant contribution to political parties, and that the proposal to give up to 40 per cent of income collected in the last year is state rape.

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