Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Backbenchers need more say

Published:Monday | February 9, 2015 | 12:00 AM

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Parliamentary backbenchers were last week given a chance to have their say, and it turned out that they are clamouring for just that - in the parliamentary domain.

"I believe that more time can be given to us 'backbenchers' to engage and participate in the parliamentary process," asserted Dr Dayton Campbell on Thursday during a Gleaner Editors' Forum.

The first-time member of parliament (MP) complained that persons on the backbench may have worthwhile ideas and must be given the opportunity for consultation to ensure consensus.

The St Ann North West MP pointed to the recent private members motions on the funding of tertiary education as one such issue to which the so-called backbenchers could contribute creatively.

Similarly, MP for West Rural St Andrew Paul Buchanan said: "I think we need a registry for ideas that are put forward on the floor."

He said that with the limited time backbenchers get to participate, it would be desirable to get some reaction.

"Even within the halls of our own party, we would have hoped that some of our ideas would be brought to life," quipped Paul Buchanan, another first-time parliamentarian.

Asked about the experience in Parliament as a first-timer, he said: "The experience would have been a bit more cerebral than what we have encountered thus far."

He suggested that the issues that arise are still relating to road, light, and water supply despite the new language of fiscal space and primary surplus.

Said Buchanan: "Ministers are our spokesmen and the leaders, hence we rarely get a chance to intervene even if we disagree with the convection."

He suggested that to avoid a stalemate in proceedings, members of the backbench simply just let bills go through.

This is a common phenomenon in countries with the export model of the Westminster system that was inherited from the United Kingdom (UK).

Countries such as Jamaica, which have a significantly smaller number of seats when compared to the UK, lack the opportunity for backbenchers to disagree as MPs fear the potential backlash from fellow party members.

For his part, MP for East Portland Dr Lynvale Bloomfield said persons in his constituency have been encouraging him to raise his voice and oppose bills.

However, he suggested that this would only create more problems. "It is a hard thing to come from country and nobody wants to listen to you."

He said that in order to get things done, a quiet fight has to be launched with ministers.

"I believe that there are some ministers that are working with us better than others," said St Elizabeth South West MP Hugh Buchanan.

He posited that each minister has a different leadership style and the education minister is someone with whom everyone has a good working relationship.

- Sakina Brown