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Golding labels Senate ‘sloppy and inexperienced’

Published:Sunday | November 13, 2016 | 11:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dr Saphire Longmore
Mark Golding
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The Government lost quorum while a bill was being debated in the Senate last week, highlighting what the Opposition has labelled the 'sloppy' conduct of the affairs of the Upper House of Jamaica's Parliament.

Kamina Johnson Smith, the leader of government business in the Senate, was forced to go on the hunt for one of her members on Thursday after the debate on a bill to amend the Proceeds of Crime Act had to be halted.

Opposition Member, Lambert Brown, who was making his contribution, alerted Aubyn Hill, who was presiding, that the rules of the Senate were in breach after Government member Dr Saphire Longmore left the chamber.

Under the Standing Orders which govern the operations of the 21-member Senate, a meeting can only be legally constituted with the presence at least eight members in addition to the president.

Up to Longmore's departure, there were three members from the Opposition and five from the Government, bringing the total to the minimum eight. Longmore's departure reduced the number to seven.

Deputy President Hill invoked Standing Orders 7 (2), which said there must be a break of five minutes to get a quorum, which if not done, "shall" see the sitting adjourned.

Hill exercised his discretion and resumed the sitting almost 10 minutes later, when Longmore returned. The bill was later passed.

According to Mark Golding, the leader of opposition business, the issue highlighted the 'inexperience' of Government members, the pressures on Johnson Smith, who is also a Cabinet minister, and the 'sloppiness' in the general conduct of the Upper House.

"Normally, you have to have at least seven days between tabling a bill and debating it. Today, they tabled and debated this bill, which I did not object to because it's a very short bill. But in the middle of the debate, the debate had to be suspended because there was no quorum because a lot of their members had left the chamber. We were there lingering wondering whether or not the proceedings could continue. I've not experienced that before and I've been in the senate since 2007," Golding told The Sunday Gleaner.

"There's a certain sloppiness to the work that's being done. They need to tighten up their act," he stressed, pointing to a legislation which was passed with 73 amendments.

That legislation, which was approved, is to establish the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority to merge and replace the cocoa and coffee industry boards.

Except for Johnson Smith, Senate president Tom Tavares Finson, Don Wehby, Kavan Gayle, and Ruel Reid, all the other eight government members are first-time senators.

Tavares Finson is rejecting some of Golding's assertions.

"What the Leader of the Opposition Business, Senator Mark Golding, needs to do is to hearken back to the way in which the Senate was conducted when A.J. Nicholson was the leader of government business, where every week, almost, the Senate broke down into a shouting match and people were quite rightly ashamed of the conduct of the Senate," Finson said.

He added, however, "I agree that there is scope for tightening up on the part of everybody in the Senate."

On the issue of quorum, the president said, "people need to recognise that the senators are not paid. So, quite often, they have business, personal matters, that they have to look about. So, it's not unusual for the Senate to run into a problem with a quorum. It's nothing to be alarmed about."

He continued, "In my mind, the Senate has been operating efficiently. Some of the bills have been very complex, and for some inexplicable reasons, the legislation seems to be coming from the Lower House in a way that requires the intervention of the Senate over and above the usual."

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com