THE START of a new year often presents itself as an ideal opportunity for persons to make an assessment about the year just gone. For The Gavel, it is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the Parliament in the last 12 months.
Unlike many who have been drawn into assigning grades for performance, we will withhold our mark until the end of the Parliamentary year in March - although, we are tempted to assign an 'O' (ordinary) for performance thus far.
When The Gavel's grading is done, it will be based on contribution to the debate on bills, motions and reports in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the extent to which members exhibit probity at the committee level.
To my mind, the foremost responsibilities of Parliament is the enactment of legislation and exercising scrutiny over the Budget.
As far as we are concerned, the Parliamentary Opposition has not been the most forceful in challenging the Executive and government backbenchers have played true to form - none has rocked the boat. In that regard, the Parliament has not done a good job at exacting scrutiny on the Government.
As it relates to the enactment of legislation, the Parliament is lagging in that regard. Our yardstick is the promise made by the Government at the start of the year to approve 32 bills, which would be about twice the average of the last few years.
That ambitious target appears unattainable at this point.
Among the laws promised by the Government is an act to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica's final Court of Appeal; a Secured Transactions Act to overhaul Jamaica's antiquated system for taking security over collateral other than real estate; a new Patents and Design Act; amendment of the Evidence Act to allow video-recorded evidence (particularly useful for child victims of sexual abuse) and evidence from remote locations via a live link (for the protection of vulnerable witnesses and to facilitate witnesses who are overseas); an anti-gang bill, a single anti-corruption agency bill and an act to establish Jamaica as a Republic, within the Commonwealth of Nations.
With only one term remaining in the parliamentary year, the Government has passed only 10 acts.
The laws passed this parliamentary year are: The Appropriation Act, 2012; The Income Tax (Amendment) Act, 2012; The National Parenting Support Commission Act, 2012; The Judicature (Supreme Court) (Validation and Amendment) Act, 2012; The Legal Profession (Amendment) Act, 2012; The Spirit Licence (Amendment) Act, 2012; The Evidence (Special Measurers) Act, 2012; The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2012; and The National Insurance Act, 2012.
A further four pieces of law were passed subsequent to the opening of the new Parliament on January 17, 2012. Those laws are: The Road Traffic (Temporary Ticket Amnesty) Act, 2012; The Processed Food (Amendment) Act, 2012; The Standards (Amendment) Act, 2012; and The Telecommunications (Amendment) Act, 2012.
It is such a pity the Government has not published the full list of 32 legislation it hopes to pass this year. Although not prone to gambling, The Gavel is prepared to say it is unlikely that the target will be achieved. We hope to be proven wrong.
In the meantime, we are serving notice that the contribution of every legislator will be critically analysed and our findings published here.
First-time MPs are being warned that the honeymoon is over. One year is more than enough time to understand the parliamentary process fully. Now is the time for involvement by everyone. It is not sufficient for members to attend sittings of the House or committees simply to answer to their names when the register is being marked.
It is certainly the case that some first-timers have not yet come to the party. For example, it appears at least two - Dr Lynvale Bloomfield (East Portland) and South West St Ann member Keith Walford - have been comatose in the House. That needs to changed by the time the Budget debate comes around.
Jamaica, with all its problems, cannot afford legislators who are sleeping on the job - literally or otherwise.
Let this be a wake up call that The Gavel is not prepared to countenance any ordinary performance by the legislature.