EDITORIAL - Escaping parliamentary slumber

Published: Tuesday | December 24, 2013 Comments 0

Mark Golding, the justice minister, ought not be begrudged his chest-thumping last week, notwithstanding the pain his effort appears to have caused Tom Tavares-Finson, the leader of the opposition business in the Senate.

In fact, we have two takes on the issue.

First, we are surprised at Tavares-Finson's stinginess of spirit and pique at the fact that Golding, whose job includes oversight for legislative affairs, boasted a bit that Parliament this year passed 40 bills, around twice the average of the previous five years.

Indeed, Tavares-Finson could hardly expect that a range of complex economic bills passed mostly in the second half of the year could have already, and of themselves, reversed a 40-year rot in the Jamaican economy. What these bills represent, hopefully, are part of the legal infrastructure necessary for the restructuring of the economy to have a shot at growth.

Surely, the opposition member would also be aware that some of the bills passed this year were among the benchmark requirements of the economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), signed when his party was in office and foundered on their watch.

The bald fact is the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) failed to take the tough political decisions. Which brings us to that second observation.

It is OK with this newspaper if the prodding of the IMF forces our Parliament, at last, and permanently, out of its narcoleptic slumber.

On average, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, sits fewer than 60 days a year and is lucky if it gets through 20 bills, including small amendments to existing laws.

That it managed 40 - many of them substantial and complex legislation - this year, is an outstanding achievement.

It shows what is possible, even though it happened with our backs to the wall and facing the IMF's threat of withholding its imprimatur - and with it external financial flows - if we failed to get the job done.

IMF DEMANDS

There are still other bits of IMF-demanded, finance-related legislation to get through. But we hope they are not the only ones that will, in the New Year, animate legislators and legal draughts people. There remains outstanding, for instance, the law to establish a single anti-corruption agency for the registration and financing of political parties and another law to allow the development of a DNA database for use in criminal prosecutions.

But for the Parliament to get through its work, it will have to ensure the legislative drafting time is down as well as shrug off its slumber and sit more often.

We do not expect it to be like the UK House of Commons, to meet nearly 150 days a year, for nearly eight hours a day and for legislators to attend over 1,300 select committee meetings and deliver more than 180 reports.

We would be satisfied to be closer to New Zealand, a country with a population size close to Jamaica, which proposes to sit at least 91 times in 2014.

Bringing our Parliament up to speed will require an overhaul of its operations, including oversight and greater transparency. Maybe we should adopt the idea of a parliamentary commission, used by many Westminster-type legislatures, to provide this type of oversight, thus helping to instil a culture of accountability.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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