Editorial | Engage recall debate
The Government and the Opposition should keep two things in mind about the latest poll finding on the impeachment and recall of members of parliament (MPs): the ideas are popular with voters; and their implementation would be good for Jamaica by enhancing accountability.
So, their adoption by either the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or the People’s National Party (PNP), the Opposition, would help them accomplish the raison d’etre of political parties – winning elections, assuming state power, and, ostensibly, to do good for citizens. These are good reasons why Prime Minister Andrew Holness should cause the resurrection of Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s impeachment bill – which has been in legislative purgatory for more than two years – and have it brought to the floor of the House for review, debate and passage.
If Mr Holness, out of concern for the political optics, does not want the bill to be associated with this Mr Golding, he can get around that by making the argument that the bill is actually by Bruce Golding, his predecessor as leader of the JLP, who brought it to Parliament 13 years ago. Mark Golding, he could say, merely updated Bruce Golding’s version.
This newspaper would find this pirouetting acceptable, if it gets the job done. And neither should Mr Golding, of current vintage, have a problem with this, if his aim is to have the bill, tabled in the wake of the George Wright affair, enacted.
The question of impeachment has new currency with the Don Anderson poll showing that more than nine in 10 Jamaicans (91.5 per cent) believe that MPs convicted of unlawful acts should be impeached and thrown out of Parliament. A marginally smaller amount, 89 per cent, say that poor-performing legislators should be subject to recall by their constituents.
The former sentiment is already applicable – to a point. Under Section 41 (3) (a) of the Constitution, a legislator who is jailed for six months or more is immediately suspended from the Parliament, and his seat becomes vacant after a month. He may, however, be provided month-by-month reprieves by the Speaker or president of the Senate, for up to 330 days, to pursue an appeal. After that, any extension has to be a decision by the relevant chamber, rather than just the presiding officer.
However, Mark Golding’s proposed impeachment law, tabled after a viral video of a man (who Mr Wright, a former member of the JLP who is ostensibly now an Independent, neither confirmed nor denied was he) was filmed beating a woman with a stool. It would not require a court conviction for a legislator to be thrown out of Parliament. A member could be censured or otherwise impeached if his colleagues determined he had engaged in “egregious conduct or other misbehaviour unbefitting of the holder of the office of senator or member of parliament, which is so serious in nature as to render the holder of the office unfit to hold that office”.
DOES NOT PROPOSE RECALL
Mr Golding’s bill, however, does not propose the recall of the MPs – an idea has been popular among Jamaicans, at least since it was formally put on the agenda in 1992 by the committee chaired by the late political scientist, Carl Stone, as one mechanism to drive accountability by politicians to their constituents.
Stone’s committee was established by the then prime minister, Michael Manley, because of a public outcry against a plan to significantly increase the salaries of MPs.
The Stone proposal triggering the recall process would require a petition signed by at least 51 per cent of the registered voters of a constituency. That threshold, it was felt, would “avoid the … power being irresponsibly exercised” by political partisans.
It ought to be of interest to Prime Minister Holness that the idea has even more support today than 31 years ago, when it was backed by 72 per cent of Jamaicans.
Further, as this newspaper previously pointed out, giving voters an opportunity to recall a representative would not be entirely new to Jamaica. The mayor of the municipality of Portmore, the island’s only directly elected local government leader (and the only representative at any level who is subject to such a provision), can be recalled if a quarter of the registered voters in Portmore signed a petition calling for an investigation into his conduct. In such an event, the local government minister would cause the investigation and, if satisfied that a case has been made, ask Parliament to vote on the mayor’s removal. A two-thirds vote by the members of the Portmore municipal council could also trigger an investigation.
The current effort to create a job description and code of conduct for MPs, which, ironically, was also triggered by public anger over big pay hikes to parliamentarians, is a good platform from which to advance the impeachment and recall proposals. The opportunity should not be wasted.