Local Government entrenchment gets closer
Members of the Parliamentary Opposition appeared confused in the House of Representatives yesterday as they struggled to find common ground on a bill to entrench local government in the Constitution.
The bill - Constitution (Amendment) (Local Government) Act, which seeks to entrench local government in the Constitution, got the support of 57 members - 41 from the Government side and 16 from the Opposition - while six members declined to vote.
"We have to support the bill. We can't look like we not supporting local government," Opposition Leader Andrew Holness muttered to opposition whip Everald Warmington as the vote was being taken.
Holness voted yes for the bill, raising his voice to register his support, a move that left West St Thomas James Robertson furious. He sprang to his seat, heading for the door, and then composed himself. Roberston would eventually follow his leader and vote yes on the bill.
However, the body language on the Opposition benches suggested that there was no clear strategy. South Trelawny MP Marisa Dalrymple Phillibert, North East St Catherine member Gregory Mair, and North East St Andrew MP Delroy Chuck were animated and appeared angry at the way things were taking shape.
"It is the lowest point of my short parliamentary life of seven and a half years," Mair told The Gleaner yesterday.
shocked by the decision
Claiming that he was embarrassed about the way the vote unfolded, the North East St Catherine MP said that the party's position had been to abstain. He said he only realised the position had changed when Holness shouted yes when the clerk asked his position on the bill.
"I nearly dropped out of my chair," Mair said.
Dalrymple Phillibert, Mair, Chuck, Ed Bartlett, Mike Henry, and Daryl Vaz all declined to vote.
"Under the Westminster parliamentary system, the role of the whip is to ensure when important bills are brought before the House for a vote that all members are present and that they all vote along the party line," Mair said.
"The whip did not fulfil his role today. The whip does not understand his role. Clearly, there was a change of position that should have been communicated appropriately, and the whip failed, and it is embarrassing," Mair said.
Desmond McKenzie, the opposition spokesman on local government, tried to delay having the vote on the bill, arguing that it should await three companion pieces of legislation, which are due to come before Parliament.
The local government bill is legislation in keeping with recommendations made in the August 1993 Report on the Constitution of Jamaica and the May 1995 final report of the Joint Select Committee of the Houses of Parliament on Constitutional and Electoral Reform.