Fri | Nov 27, 2020

Senate walkout serves no practical purpose, says JCC

Published:Saturday | July 6, 2019 | 12:23 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Senator Dr André Haughton (left) assists his colleague Dr Floyd Morris, who is visually impaired, to leave the House floor as opposition members walked out of the Senate yesterday.
Senator Dr André Haughton (left) assists his colleague Dr Floyd Morris, who is visually impaired, to leave the House floor as opposition members walked out of the Senate yesterday.

Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) President Lloyd Distant says that no good can come from a parliamentary walkout by either Government or Opposition members, saying that the move was counterproductive to the delivery of wholesome legislation to guide the development of the country.

He was alluding to yesterday’s walkout by Opposition Senate members, who sided with colleague Lambert Brown, who was told by Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson to take his seat at the peak of his presentation in a debate on the Petroleum Amendment Act (2019).

“It serves no practical purpose to walk out. The business of the people of Jamaica must take precedence. It is my stance that a walkout does not enhance the nation’s business,” Distant told The Gleaner yesterday.

KICK-BACK SCHEME?

Opposition members said that the walkout was precipitated by how Tavares-Finson dealt with Brown’s entire presentation after he questioned whether a transfer from the PetroCaribe Development Fund to the scandal-racked Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) was part of a kickback scheme.

“This Senate, through this bill, is being asked to advise and consent on US$1.6 billion, or over J$208 billion, to be transferred from the PetroCaribe Development Fund into the Budget of this Government. That’s approximately 26 per cent of the Budget for this year. That’s a big chunk of money from the PetroCaribe Development Fund into the Consolidated Fund of Jamaica.

“Was $400 million sent to CMU from the PetroCaribe? I want to know if the money that was sent to the CMU is a liability to be paid back. I want to know, given what I have heard coming out of the parliamentary committees, whether or not we are operating, through the CMU, a kickback scheme to a particular former minister of Government,” Brown said.

This sparked more than an hour of back and forth between Brown and the Government members, with Tavares-Finson often warning Brown about his trespasses and that he would curtail his presentation to allow for the “smooth” passage of the bill.

The protracted stand-off triggered the walkout, leaving the bill to be passed without any amendments.

Government Senator Don Wehby expressed disgust at how the proceedings unfolded.

Wehby said that having been selected to the Senate in 2007 and serving two years and again selected in 2016 to the present, he indicated that yesterday’s sitting was the worst he had experienced.

“Today, what I have experienced is the most disappointing day in my life in the Senate. I am really disappointed in terms of my experience this morning,” he said following the sitting.

Further, Wehby noted: “Anyone in our country, especially those that are selected as we are as senators or elected by the people of the country must be held accountable to the full extent of the law. Anyone! It is a serious breach of trust to the people of Jamaica”.

The bill sought to amend the Petroleum Act by repealing a section dealing with the integration of the functions of the PetroCaribe Development Fund into the Consolidated Funds. The debate was to also consider the liability and the assets of the fund.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com