THREE LAWMAKERS, one from the governing People's National Party, and two from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, last Friday used the occasion of the joint sitting of Parliament to honour Nelson Mandela, to call attention to the treatment of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller by sections of the Jamaican media.
Peter Bunting, Central Manchester member of parliament and minister of national security, who raised the issue, said the callous manner in which sections of the media treat Simpson Miller underscores the point that although the back of apartheid has been broken in South Africa, the monsters of racism and classism still persist in many societies.
According to Bunting, with Mandela having dedicated his life to the fight against racism, the best way to honour his memory is to fight against discrimination in our societies. In fact, aside from giving the example of the treatment of Simpson Miller, Bunting pointed to the decision by the Dominican Republic to expel hundreds of thousands of persons of Haitian descent in that country. It is such a pity Jamaica's Parliament has been so silent on this matter.
The Gavel found it encouraging, nonetheless, that North Central St Andrew and North West St James MPs Karl Samuda and Dr Horace Chang associated with the comments made by Bunting about Simpson Miller. Samuda, for example, said that with Jamaica existing within a global space, in the technological age, the country cannot afford to send the signal that it is ridiculing the prime minister. As far as we are concerned, the support from the opposition MPs is a most welcoming signal.
The Gavel has long been of the view that too many media practitioners do not want to be disturbed by issues. It is for this reason, our society has been short-changed in the reporting and the reportage of critical matters such as the country's economic programme and connected matters. This unfortunate reality, coupled with the tendency towards 'sound-bite' and 'good quote' journalism, has done a great disservice to our people. In that context, we find that a lot of journalists are most likely to track stories around which there is great hype, and very often neglecting the impact of government policies, programmes and laws on the people.
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And with Simpson Miller always being a target because of her failure to communicate often enough with the Jamaican people, media will hound her, if even to get a sound bite on a topical matter. To neutralise this, the prime minister should make herself available to the press for extended interviews; she should turn up at post-Cabinet press conferences; and she should address the country by way of regular televised statements.
This, however, will not cure the mischief identified by Bunting et al. By now, they should have recognised that there is a segment of the population that either does not respect Simpson Miller's intellectual capabilities or will not embrace her because of her social class. And there is no need to point out that media workers are drawn from this same society, and practitioners, notwithstanding well-established guidelines in media ethics, do not always leave personal views at home. It is also the unfortunate reality that media practitioners at times can be crude and rude.
Like Mandela who confronted apartheid, Simpson Miller must strive to conquer her detractors, not by avoiding them, but by frequently confronting them with answers on matters of critical importance to the country.
Good always conquers evil.
To another matter, this time having to do with the Government's legislative agenda. We can't recall a comparable period in parliament when legislators have been kept this busy examining and passing bills with such break-neck pace as is the case today. Indeed, when members rise for the Christmas break this week, they will be getting a well-deserved rest.
This, however, does not mean that the concerns we raise last week about possible pitfalls in legislation as a result of the speed, have disappeared. The fact that 105 amendments have so far been made to the Securities Interest in Personal Property bill, eloquently makes the point that the bills coming to Parliament are far from perfect.
Our observation, however, should not be seen as an attack on the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (CPC). In fact, as Justice Minister Mark Golding pointed out during a sitting last Thursday, the office should be commended for the pace at which it has been churning out the high volume of bills, which is consistently of a high quality. We associate ourselves with that comment. The CPC has been the unsung hero in Jamaica's quest to pass quarterly tests set by the IMF.
Now that the Parliament is to proceed on break, we hope when they return next year, the House of Representatives in particular, will pay attention to several Private Members Motion which are currently on the Order Paper. The Gavel has primary interest in the motion brought by North East St Catherine MP Gregory Mair for House to cause the Government of Jamaica to remove the Common External Tariff on automotive diesel oil and heavy fuel oil.
Mair has noted that the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) is the sole provider of electricity and has to tender the supply of No. 2 automotive diesel oil and No. 6 heavy fuel oil for its generating plant facilities across the island; and that Petrojam is presently the sole provider of fuel to JPS and enjoys a local petroleum market share in excess of 80 percent, mainly due to trade protection.
The Office of Utilities Regulation four years ago recommended to the Cabinet that it removes the CET, which could bring an immediate reduction in the price of electricity.