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Not so fast .... ECJ says gov't should delay bill to bar Portmore councillors from St Catherine PC

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2016 | 2:17 PM
In this file photo, chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica Dorothy Pine-McLarty listens to Director of Elections Orrette Fisher at a press conference earlier this year.

Jovan Johnson, Parliamentary Reporter

In a major blow to the Government, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) has recommended that it delays the legislation that would split the Portmore municipality from the St Catherine Municipal Corporation.

For more almost three decades, the parliament has adopted a convention of accepting recommendations of the ECJ.

The ECJ made the recommendation following its hastily convened meeting today to consider the Local Governance (Amendment) Act, 2016 that is to be debated in the House of Representatives this afternoon.

"The proposed alterations to the boundaries when compared with the existing gazetted boundaries for the municipality of Portmore cannot practically be completed and gazetted before Nomination Day, Friday November 11, 2016," ECJ chairperson Dorothy Pine McLarty said in a letter to Derrick Smith, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister who is also the Leader of Government Business in the House.

IN PHOTO: St Catherine Parish Council

The government's push for the spilt would reduce the number of divisions represented in the St Catherine Parish Council.

The Opposition has argued that this would make it advantageous for the Jamaica Labour Party to win the council in the November 28 local government elections.

Pine-McLarty said timely consultation with the residents of Portmore should be undertaken because they are entitled to this.

The bill allowing for the split requires only a simple majority to be passed in both houses. 

The Government has a one seat majority in the House.

IN PHOTO: Phillip Paulwell

Phillip Paulwell, the leader of opposition business, said the Government should abide by the ECJ's decision and not throw out the convention.

"The ECJ having stated its position, the Opposition is even more resolute that this matter cannot be concluded before these local government elections. We will do everything that is legally possible to prevent the Government from engaging in this travesty," he said.

"We intend to ensure that the bill is not passed in Parliament if it means the speaker having to use his casting vote," he told The Gleaner on his way into Gordon House a short while ago.

IN PHOTO: Derrick Smith

Holness and senior administration officials held a meeting yesterday with the Opposition and decided to put the bill before the ECJ.

However, when Smith tabled the bill yesterday and indicated that it would be debated today, the Opposition said the Government was betraying an agreement not to debate the bill.

The Opposition also said the government was "tampering with democracy" by rushing to pass the bill.

The Prime Minister rejected the assertion as 'dangerous'.

"There is no sinister motive; it is merely the speed at which Government has to work."

*St Catherine comprises 41 divisions
*Twelve the divisions in St Catherine are from Portmore
*The separation would leave it with 29 divisions
*In the 2012 elections the JLP won 15 of the non-Portmore St Catherine divisions, the People's National Party won the other 14.