Wed | Jan 27, 2021

‘It’s unfair!’ - Jackson insists Parliament should provide accommodation for rural MPs

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2021 | 12:19 AM

With some fellow parliamentarians up in arms over a taxing schedule, Fitz Jackson has asserted that the Parliament should make accommodation for those who have to travel long distances home and back between sittings at Gordon House.

At its first meeting since the start of the new year, the Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) yesterday examined its schedule for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in March.

PAAC member Heroy Clarke pushed for a break in one of the weeks so that members of parliament (MPs) could tend to constituency matters.

But PAAC Chairman Mikael Phillips pointed out that committees of Parliament were recently criticised for not having enough meetings.

He was strongly supported by Jackson, who argued that the parliamentary work should be an MP’s first obligation.

“The PAAC is the only standing committee of Parliament that has continuous responsibility to the Parliament throughout the year,” Jackson stressed.

“The appropriations committee, it was set up deliberately to oversee the appropriations and the performance of ministries and agencies on an ongoing basis – not when we feel like or when it’s convenient to us. We must make ourselves available to fulfil that parliamentary role. Let us be careful how we contemplate scaling down the activities of the PAAC,” Jackson stressed.

Juliet Holness noted that in the last dispensation of the committee, the third week of the month was usually not booked for meetings.

“We need to ensure that we are preparing adequately for the sessions. On both sides of the aisle, you would have persons come here and they are not necessarily adequately prepared and asking questions that are not necessary,” Holness added in support of the break.

But with Phillips not making any definitive declaration on whether he would accept the suggestion, he was pressed by Clarke to have a vote.

“Even though we have a parliamentary duty – yes, we are well aware of that, and part of that parliamentary duty is to represent constituents and the constituency that you were elected to do so – it is very taxing on one individual,” Clarke said. “For example, you have persons who went home last night (Tuesday) after Parliament and are back here this morning – all the way to Westmoreland and St Elizabeth.”

He continued: “You have one member who asked not to be placed on committees after the first couple of meetings because it was very [taxing] on him because you have to drive home and drive back.”

ACCOMMODATE COLLEAGUES

He found support in Jackson, who said a way must be found to make it easier for members from rural constituencies to be accommodated.

“Our colleagues should never be put in that position. The Parliament should provide accommodation for our colleagues who live in distant areas. ... In government service, if somebody from the ministry has to meet in Westmoreland, they make accommodation there for them. Why is it that the member of parliament should be exempted? We must fix that problem and don’t compromise our representational responsibility because of that failure. It is unfair to them. Even with a driver, it is tiring,” he contended.

Phillips suggested a meeting be held with the committee chairmen and the leader of government business in the House of Representatives.

He insisted that it was illogical that in the face of complaints about committees not meeting enough, PAAC members were suggesting to “give up meeting time”.

“Members, I went through it, too, but remember you get travelling [allowance] to come to the committee [meetings],” he stated.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com