Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Still have my personal feelings - Johnson Smith

Published:Saturday | July 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Johnson Smith

Despite having "personal feelings" on a bill to amend the National Housing Trust (NHT) Act to withdraw $11.4 billion from the housing agency over the next four years for budgetary support, Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith said that the issue was larger than her personal viewpoint.

Four years ago, Johnson Smith, who was the leader of opposition business, and some of her opposition colleagues in the Upper House, with the exception of Kavan Gayle, called for a divide on a similar bill to take $11.4 billion from the NHT for budgetary support.

The opposition members of the Jamaica Labour Party JLP), who debated the bill in 2013, voted against it.

While debating the new NHT bill yesterday, Johnson Smith did not conceal the position she took previously. "I have expressed strong feelings on the bill that was passed in the same terms when I was on the other side and I continue to still have personal feelings on this bill. But the matter is larger than me; public service is larger than me."

Johnson Smith apparently came prepared to be upbraided by the opposition, who used its superior numbers while in government in 2013 to pass a similar bill in the Senate. "I know that there are members who are ready with Hansard and whatever barb and points which they will, undoubtedly, feel good about bringing, and that's fine. Everybody must take their pleasure where they find it."

And the parliamentary opposition came prepared to remind the Government about its previous stance on pulling funds from the trust.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown charged that Johnson Smith lectured the Senate in 2013 on the role of a review chamber, declaring that it was not a rubber stamp for the Lower House.

"I wish that the words used in opposition will be those used in government," Brown said.

'Huge double standard' lashed

Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Mark Golding described as a "huge double standard" the Government's about turn on the withdrawal of money from the National Housing Trust (NHT).

He said that when the first bill came to Parliament, the then opposition, Jamaica Labour Party, castigated the People's National Party administration for dipping into the NHT's coffers. However, he said the decision was made at a time when the country was faced with a severe debt crisis.

"Come full circle, here we are debating a bill brought by the Jamaica Labour Party Government to extract $11.4 billion from the trust," Golding said.

He said that the opposition would support any measure that was in the national interest.

Debate on the bill, at times, descended into verbal clashes, with members rising on points of order and the president having to intervene to cool tempers.

After a long debate, the bill was passed with no amendments.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com