Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Good pace, but watch the details - Parliament break-neck speed in passing IMF bills fraught with danger

Published:Monday | December 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr Peter Phillips and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, greet each other. - File photos
Edward Seaga
Former South African President Nelson Mandela.
P.J. Patterson

There appears to be a strong possibility that members of our society could find themselves on the wrong end of bad laws as a result of the break-neck pace at which Parliament has been passing bills in order to satisfy the country's agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

At present, the parliament is being asked to consider the Securities Interest in Personal Property (SIPP), as well as the omnibus tax incentives regime.

Both bills have been passed by the House of Representatives. In the case of the omnibus tax incentives regime, it was passed by the House and sent to the Senate, which last Friday considered it and sent it back with several amendments.

As for the SIPP, it was passed in the House of Representatives with 84 amendments last week. But one should not read the amendments as an indication of rigorous work by the house to improve the bill.

The list of amendments was developed based on concerns expressed by the joint select committee which considered the highly technical bill. It was then tabled along with the report of the committee and rushed through the House that same afternoon.

Dangerous slips

The debate and passage of the SIIPP took place notwithstanding a plea from south west St Catherine Member of Parliament Everald Warmington who argued that more time was needed to consider the bill. Warmington, had a most legitimate argument but the fact that he so often disappears from the chamber during debates made it difficult for his appeal to go far enough.

We fear that the SIPP may have some dangerous slips contained and we hope the Senate's diligence will again be on display when it is considered. At least one private-sector player has suggested the new law, which allows persons to use personal property as collateral for loans, will result in additional stamp duty and increased prices on items acquired by way of hire purchase. We hope this is not the case.

Under the IMF agreement, Jamaica has committed to establish a secure transactions framework to facilitate improved access to credit through the inclusion of movable property as allowable forms of collateral. The passage of the SIPP in both houses of parliament is central to Jamaica achieving the structural benchmark of establishing and operating the Central Collateral Registry by December, 2013.

The parliament has done well thus far in passing the bills, and the weeks should be hectic for all legislators.

IMF hovering

By now the country should realise the government is not making a lot of noise about passing the third quarterly test under the IMF programme. This is because the government has to secure the passage of three bills in parliament before the recess. In addition to the omnibus tax incentives regime and the SIPP, the four-year programme with the IMF calls for a new bankruptcy act to be tabled by year end. That bill has not been brought to parliament as yet. In addition, the parliament has to sign off on a superform, which is aimed at streamlining the business registration process through the use of a multi-purpose registration instrument (business registration superform and associated IT platform).

Justice Minister Mark Golding said he will be tabling the superform on Friday.

Given the workload, and with only two Tuesdays to go before the House rises for the Christmas break, we would not be surprised if MPs are asked to sit on Wednesday of either this or next week to get the business of the country done.

In the meanwhile, parliament will have a joint sitting on Friday to pay tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela. Given the stature of the man, it is quite appropriate for both members of the senate and the House of Representatives to huddle and salute this anti-apartheid fighter.

We hope good sense would go further and that the parliament will see it fit to invite former prime ministers P.J Patterson and Edward Seaga to not only attend the sitting but also give them an opportunity to speak in the House.