Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Silencing the bell

Published:Saturday | January 9, 2016 | 1:00 AMEdmond Campbell

A PROVISION in the Local Governance Act, 2015, yesterday irked Opposition Spokesman on Local Government Robert Montague, who accused the governing People's National Party of trying to silence the ringing of the bell by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) during election campaigns.

Montague complained bitterly about section 51 (m) (iv) of the bill, which gives the local authorities the power to prohibit or regulate the ringing of bells in public places, among other things.

He accused the Government of politicising the bill "in a vulgar way".

The provision authorises the parish councils to prohibit or regulate "public cries, advertising noises, steam whistles, bill posting, and the ringing of bells in any thoroughfare or public place, and the establishment of silent zones."

"This is disgraceful. This is the most political act," Montague lamented while contributing to debate on the Local Governance Act, 2015 and two other companion bills seeking to provide the framework for the comprehensive reform of Jamaica's local government system. The bills will give local authorities greater autonomy in the management of local affairs.

Scoffing at the inclusion of the "ringing of bells", Montague argued that the blowing of the trumpet was not contained in the particular section of the bill.

"This bill was passed in the House in November because we were anticipating an election in December and you want to deny the right of a Jamaican to pursue the political organisation of his or her choice," he exclaimed.

CALLS FOR AMENDMENT

This provision must be amended, Montague charged, arguing that it "flies in the face of the Charter of Rights".

Justice Minister, Senator Mark Golding, who piloted the bill, rose on a point of order during Montague's presentation, challenging claims by the opposition spokesman that he (Golding) inserted the controversial phrase in the bill.

Attempting to bring clarity to the matter, Golding explained that prohibition of the ringing of bells was contained in the Kingston and St Andrew Act of 1931, which predated the establishment of both political parties.

Golding described Montague's claims as "mischievous trivialities".

"He was attributing this ringing of bells to me. I was not born in 1931, and while he was minister responsible for local government, he did nothing about removing this reference to the ringing of bells."

However, Montague said: "It is no excuse that it is in an old bill that it should remain. Ganja was prohibited in an old bill and he took it out."

The senators on both sides of the political divide locked horns again at the committee section of their deliberations over whether to remove the term 'ringing of bell'. Golding asked if there was room for compromise on the issue, but later said: "The bottom line is the opposition senators would like to have the clause adjusted (while) the majority of senators on the government side feel that this is an unnecessary thing to do. This is a provision that has been there from 1931. It is purely an exercise in triviality to engage in such a ridiculous point."

Golding then asked that the clause be put to the committee, where it was accepted without objection.

The JLP's so-called 'liberty bell' is an electoral symbol and a recurring theme in the JLP's anthem.