Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Virtual parliamentary sittings not necessary as yet - Samuda

Published:Monday | April 6, 2020 | 12:14 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

LEADER OF Government Business Karl Samuda said that despite the presence of COVID-19 in Jamaica necessitating social (physical) distancing, it has not reached the stage where the Parliament must convene virtually as yet.

He did say, however, that should it become inevitable should there be an increase in positive coronavirus cases, a collective decision will be made as to whether or not virtual meetings would be the next step.

“To say we are going to engage Parliament and the process by which we legislate virtually is not a matter that has received any serious discussion so far,” Samuda said last week, when pressed on the matter.

The Andrew Holness-led administration has been given rave reviews for its handling of Jamaica’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak on the island, and has been proactive in using available technologies to communicate the Government’s plans, with daily updates carried via television and streamed live over the Internet.

But the senior government minister added that there is nothing currently in place to guide him in terms of a determined policy on whether or not Parliament could be held in such fashion.

He said when Parliament is eventually convened, it will configure meetings to take cognisance of the precautions that have been announced by the Government in so far as social distancing is concerned.

The Parliament has already instituted social distancing in seating arrangements.

“Those are provisions that are being worked out right now but at the moment there are no plans to virtually convene the Parliament or any of the committees at this time,” Samuda said.

Meanwhile, Dr Morais Guy, the opposition leader of business in the House, said a move to hold committee meetings through virtual digital online mediums is something members on the Opposition benches have been advocating for.

He said that given the unfolding epidemic confronting the nation, using Internet-based communication technology, such as video conferencing, for such parliamentary meetings would be useful.

“Certainly, it is something that we would urge and push for, [and] to also include the entire Parliament, because the committees are subsets of the Parliament,” Guy said.

He noted, however, that the Parliament’s ageing infrastructure makes it that much more difficult to adopt some of the more modern types of Internet-based communication and that it may require significant technological input in the first place to have it ready for such undertaking, should that be a necessity going forward.

“We have recommended that it has to be done, even if you have to bring in external assistance where that is concerned,” Guy stated.