Wed | Aug 16, 2017

New House speaker gets sympathy, support from predecessor

Published:Thursday | March 10, 2016 | 3:00 AMJovan Johnson
Michael Peart

"My sympathy and support."

Those were the words from Michael Peart, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, to his successor, who, as of today, will preside over a House which, for the first time in Jamaica's parliamentary history, will have an equal number of members on the government and opposition benches.

The new Parliament will open today, two weeks after the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party won the general election by a one-seat majority.

Thirty-two government members will take their seat in the Lower House, while 31 will come from the Opposition People's National Party.

However, Pearnel Charles, from the government side, will be sitting in the Speaker's chair, leaving 31 members on each side to clash over the making of laws.

The Speaker will, however, have a casting vote in the event of a tie.

Peart, who has retired after serving as Speaker in the last Parliament, said that Charles' job would not be easy.

"The Speaker will have to be on his 'p's and 'q's. It's not going to be easy, but with careful planning, it can work," Peart told The Gleaner.

Peart said that a number of things would have to change, which he also anticipates will improve the discipline in the conduct of parliamentary affairs.

"Attendance and punctuality will have to be a top (priority). The habit of MPs coming to Parliament late and or leaving early will have to be improved because of the dead heat," he said.

"Scheduling of voting days will have to be planned carefully among the Speaker, leader of government business, and the leader of opposition business. You don't want anyone springing any surprises," he added.

Perhaps anticipating a legislative deadlock, Holness, at his swearing-in last week, issued a call for partnership to the Opposition, a call that commentators said was strategic to ensure cooperation.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com