Sun | Aug 1, 2021

The Nation's Business Suffers

Published:Sunday | November 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Raymond Pryce, North East St Elizabeth Member of Parliament

Taxpayers are getting diminishing returns from their parliamentarians. This, however, has nothing to do with the quality of individuals in the legislature, but is a result of a general election in the air.

The last few weeks in particular have seen more attempts at politicking by legislators, more unsanctioned committee meetings and plain lack of interest in the people's business by most legislators. It is clearly time to dissolve the Parliament and call fresh elections because that is where the minds of members are at this point.

Indeed, following Dr Christopher Tufton's railroading of the Government's hope of passing Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) bills on Friday, there is clearly very little left by way of legislation for the Portia Simpson Miller administration to bring into force within short order.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the new Road Traffic Bill and three other landmark pieces of legislation having to do with reform of local government. It would be good if A.J. Nicholson, the leader of government business in the Senate, scheduled next Thursday for debate and passage of those bills. That would mean the Senate sitting this week to receive the bills and possibly hearing from its last hope on the CCJ bills, Arthur Williams.

Everything else on the Order Paper can be allowed to die with the dissolution of Parliament, and if possible, reincarnated and brought back after a new Parliament is sworn in. Naturally, some critical pieces of proposed legislation will have to bite the dust during this period, among them being the DNA bill, the Customs bill, the campaign financing bill and the special economic zone bill.

The death of these bills, however, have been long telegraphed. For instance, the DNA bill has been on the table in the House of Representatives since May, and the refusal by the Government to send it to a joint select committee has seen it stalled.

The bill contains provisions for the keeping, maintenance and operation of a consolidated forensic DNA databank, to be known as the National DNA Register, for the purposes of forensic investigation and human identification inter alia; to provide for the regulation of the taking of bodily samples (other than fingerprints taken for purposes of the Fingerprint Act ) from persons and crime scenes; and the retention or destruction of samples and DNA profiles.


Stop illicit funding


The special economic zone bill is new, and so too is the campaign financing bill, which, it is clear, neither side of the Parliament wants to see in force. Proponents of the campaign financing law want to see it in place before the general election. They believe it can clamp down on illicit funding in politics and help enrich our democracy.

The bill, for example, says no candidate can spend more than $10 million in his constituency during the campaign period, which starts after an election is announced, and ignores the fact that candidates may now be spending the bulk of their funds in organising.

The fact that there is no mechanism to capture spending outside the campaign period, or to link mass petrol purchases by an impermissible motorcade in support of a candidate, is evidence that there's still a lot of work to do on the campaign financing bill. I won't be mourning if it falls off the table.

However, it will be a sad day when the matter of funding tertiary education falls into the parliamentary grave. For some unknown reason, this motion, which was brought in 2013 by Dr Dayton Campbell, MP for North West St Ann, is still before a committee.

The Human Resource and Social Development Committee was mandated to urgently examine the adequacy and affordability of funding tertiary education in Jamaica.

Raymond Pryce's motion regarding the need for legislation in Jamaica that will require civil society groups - in keeping with emerging global financial and ethical requirements - to protect Jamaica's democracy is also likely to suffer a sad end.

Equally sad is the fact that the dissolution will mean the end for the ongoing review of sexual offences. A special select committee should be set up to sit jointly with a similar committee appointed by the Senate to consider and report on the operations of the Sexual Offences Act, relative to the review of the legislation in accordance with the provisions of the Act and incorporating the review of existing legislation. These include the Offences against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act, in relation to issues raised in a Private Members' Motion bought by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith in 2013.


Weighty issues


No one can deny that the matters mentioned are not weighty issues and deserve to be concluded. The length of time it has taken for them to get to this stage and not concluded is another matter.

But it is clear legislators are in campaign mood. At least two of the five senators with ambition of getting to the House of Representatives appear not to be able to be dispassionate anymore. The cross-talk from most senators is laced with political opportunism; and MPs who are seeking to be re-elected are elsewhere, either in body or mind.

For much of last week's sitting of the House, Desmond McKenzie was the only opposition MP, and there were perhaps a dozen government members. Most opposition MPs left because their hopes of ripping apart Dr Fenton Ferguson by way of a censure motion were dashed because the minister was removed from the health portfolio and Speaker Michael Peart ruled that the motion was invalid. McKenzie may have stayed only because the landmark local government bills were being debated. He, at times, had the company of Shahine Robinson and Everald Warmington.

So, while a general election is not due until next December, and may be postponed for a further three months, the signal from Simpson Miller that election is not far away has served to distract parliamentarians from the people's business. Dissolution of Parliament and an election date is the only cure for this distracting bug.