Bank bill battle - Government MPs muscle Opposition into waiting another week to debate fee law
Amid sharp exchanges, sometimes descending into a shouting match, Government lawmakers used their superior numbers yesterday to crush an attempt by the parliamentary Opposition to have a bill, piloted by St Catherine South Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson, taken through all its stages. The bill seeks to amend the Banking Services Act to regulate bank fees.
Acting House leader Everald Warmington moved a motion that debate on the bill be suspended. However, the Opposition called for a divide resulting in a vote that saw 30 government members supporting the motion while 21 opposition legislators said 'no'. Eleven members were absent.
A seemingly agitated Jackson demanded that the Government complete debate on the bill yesterday, eliciting a strong response from Warmington, who said he would not be "bullied".
The acting House leader later gave the Government's commitment to complete deliberations on the bill at the next sitting of the Lower House.
Two government members gave the clearest indications that the bill now before the House would end up on the scrap heap.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte challenged claims by Jackson that her department did not provide assistance in reviewing the bill. She said the Attorney General's Chambers could not express an opinion on the bill because it lacked a policy framework. Further, she said the Ministry of Finance would have to review the proposed law to ensure that it was in keeping with government policy.
In opening debate on the bill, Jackson said he submitted the bill to the Attorney General's Department to get its stamp of approval, but this was not forthcoming. "It come to your office for you to sign off on it and up until now, for three months ... . I asked if it was attended to, and the answer is 'no'. I asked if I should go ahead in the House and I was told I can.
"I am saying this out of deep disappointment and frustration because I can't fathom how a matter like this, after being in this House for so long, found such difficulty. What we are talking about? It's the people's money, that's what this bill is all about," said Jackson.
Pensioners are going to find their savings disappear - Phillips
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda, who chaired the committee that reviewed the resolution on bank fees, accused the parliamentary Opposition for failing to craft policy to address the concerns after a report with a plethora of recommendations was submitted to the then People's National Party administration.
Samuda said the provisions in the bill were being incorporated into a policy that would later be crafted into law.
Reading from a letter dated December 14, 2017, from the Bank of Jamaica to the minister of finance, Samuda said: "The work on setting up a legal framework for consumer protection for deposit-taking institutions is progressing and a concept paper describing the objectives of the framework and the legal arrangements for their achievement is being prepared for your consideration and with your guidance for presentation to Cabinet by June 2018."
Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips said the process being taken by the Government to address the urgent concerns in the bill could take years before new legislation comes to Parliament to regulate bank fees.
"In that three years and four years that he is asking us to wait, in addition, the pensioners are going to find their savings disappear. The fee structure is going to continue to take away poor people's money.
The small business people is going to suck salt out of wooden spoon all because of a device, for some contrivance that is being developed to delay the passage of a good bill supported by you," said Phillips to Samuda.