Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Uninspiring constituency debates

Published:Monday | September 14, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Julian Robinson
ROBINSON
Phillip Paulwell
Paul Buchanan
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We are entering week three of the State of the Constituency Debate and the longer it progresses, the more it feels like a waste of time.

More than a dozen persons have participated in this debate, and, so far, for the most part, the Ministry of Finance's technical team that has been monitoring the debate has nothing much to do.

The idea behind the State of the Constituency Debate is that members of parliament would be given the opportunity to not only tell the story of their performance in their constituencies, but also get support from the Ministry of Finance to implement projects.

But as we thought, the debate is turning out to be nothing but show and tell for Government MPs and a platform for complaints by Opposition MPs.

Maybe I was wrong to expect a more focused, result-oriented debate. Or perhaps, as one MP said last week, the political silly season is perhaps dictating the contents of these presentations.

And maybe it could be the case that the 15 minutes given to each MP to make their presentations are insufficient to develop any real point and thus, it is better to play a cameo knock.

Let us recall that arising out of the deliberations on the Sectoral Debate, the format of which has been subsequently amended to make it more focused and relevant, a proposal that the State of the Constituency Debate be instituted to provide all members of parliament with an opportunity to speak on matters related to their respective constituencies.

The Standing Order Committee agreed that this debate should take place in the third quarter of the year, prior to the Budget call. It was also agreed that the debate should be concluded within a period of six weeks, from September to the end of October.

CABINET RETREAT

Phillip Paulwell, the leader of government business in the House, has already said that the State of the Constituency Debate will only last three weeks. He said that following the conclusion of the debates this week, the Cabinet will be on retreat and "we will be taking into account the issues that are raised here in this Constituency Debate".

Sadly, however, there is not much that the Public Expenditure Division will have to do as a result of the sittings. There are, perhaps, only a few suggestions that are worth serious consideration. One of those suggestions is for a shingle/dirt road maintenance fund to be established.

Damion Crawford, MP for East Rural St Andrew, accepted that many of the roads in his constituency will not be asphalted anytime soon because of the low volume of traffic in some areas. He said, however, that the people who live in those areas should have the benefit of having their roads maintained to ensure easy access to and from those communities. It is not a bad idea and one that should be taken seriously by the Cabinet.

North East St Ann MP Shahine Robinson and North East Manchester MP Audley Shaw have called for special maintenance allocations for drains, gullies and roads. This is a matter impatient of debate.

The issue of housing has also come up for debate. Paul Buchanan, MP for West Rural St Andrew, wants a revival of Operation Pride. It is not a bad idea, but Pride will have to shed its ghosts.

Delroy Chuck wants to "buy them" as part of urban renewal.

MORE HOUSES

Dr Dayton Campbell, MP for North West St Ann, and Shahine Robinson want more houses in the Garden Parish. Dr Campell believes the National Housing Trust (NHT) should partner with Food For The Poor to construct low-income housing.

"I believe that each member that contributes to NHT should stand to get a benefit. I am, therefore, proposing that a partnership be worked out with Food For The Poor to have them construct the two-bedroom units which are priced at roughly US$6,000, and have these individuals obtain a mortgage. As a contingency, the beneficiary could be given a second loan after 10 years to refurbish the unit," Dr Campbell said.

This, however, is reinventing the wheel. If anything, Dr Campbell should be calling for an expansion.

A partnership between the charitable organisation and the Government already sees Food For The Poor constructing some 600 concrete starter units annually for sale to the National Housing Trust. The houses are to be constructed at the equivalent of US$9,500 per unit and will be made available to NHT contributors, who earn a weekly salary of between $5,000 and $7,000.

South East St Andrew MP Julian Robinson, while taking credit for an initiative to lower the electricity cost for the operation of community access posts through the use of solar technology, has pointed to an issue that should worry all MPs. These centres, which allow the public to access Internet service from low-cost cafÈs, face certain death unless a way is found to lower the electricity costs.

The Cabinet should seriously consider a solar budget for these facilities that are strung across 213 locations around the island.

Now, with hardly any revolutionary ideas so far coming to the Parliament during this debate, which ends this week, one hopes that the remaining speakers will demonstrate to Jamaica that it is worthwhile having the State of the Constituency Debate.

Perhaps we can get some insight from MPs about what is being done at the constituency level to tackle major national problems such as crime and violence. Surely, one of the aims of this debate should be how best practices can be adopted in order create wealth for our people and to build a kinder, gentler society.

It should not be that we are subjected to vulgar political rhetoric of such as the "promise made, promise kept, proven performance" drivel from East St Andrew MP Andre Hylton, or cussing from the Opposition that they have been victimised. It is not too late to step up the game.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com