HARD TO DEFINE
MPs point to difficulty in crafting job descriptions given constituents’ needs
A NEW wardrobe because of weight gain and a recommendation for a woman who left her spouse to reconcile with him are among the hundreds of demands placed on members of parliament (MPs), a town hall discussing job descriptions for the legislators heard on Sunday.
The requests, described as some of the “weirdest” to reach parliamentarians, form part of the reason a Green Paper tabled by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in June on the job description for members of parliament (MPs) appear “generalised”.
St Andrew East Rural MP Juliet Holness, who serves as chair of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) considering how MPs should function, has argued that their role is difficult to box.
Holness, who was among members of the committee fielding questions at Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston, said the demographic make-up of constituencies and diversity of constituents shape the kinds of assistance they clamour for.
Requests often include book vouchers, financial and agricultural assistance, job recommendations and placements.
She said MPs are also called upon to act as counsellors and mediators for constituents, a number of whom favour social to legislative work.
“Because of that, the job descriptions are very generalised because these job descriptions have been done to fit every single type of constituency,” Holness said.
She said what is required of each MP is for them to have a deep appreciation for their constituency, its structure and needs to ensure re-election.
The proposed job description, which has been criticised as a form of “symbolic manipulation”, will see the JSC deliberate issues such as punctuality and consistent attendance; participation in parliamentary debates on bills and motions, reports and other material under deliberation; completion and implementation of constituency development plans in accordance with the requirement of the Constituency Development Fund Office; the frequency of meetings held with constituents; and, among other things, documented use of public resources.
Holness said these are the issues that are thought about at an intellectual level by groups such as civil society, but said that constituents view things differently.
“I promise you, not one person in my constituency is interested in this unless it is someone who has been educated … . They think at that level,” said Holness.
“The man who spent three hours last Thursday at my constituency office said to me, ‘I voted for you in 2016 and mi nuh get nothing. Mi nuh get no benefit, weh mi vote for you for’? I said, ‘you didn’t get any road in your community [or] water’? He said, ‘mi nuh business with that. Mi nuh get nuh benefit. You give mi two food package, what that’? That was his understanding of my role,” Holness continued.
She said the job of MPs should not be seen as one where benefits are routinely given but some constituencies have a vast number of people whose aim is solely to personally benefit.
“Job descriptions are far and wide and varying,” she said, pointing to family counsel work which she said that she has had to do.
She said that at times, she had to deliberate on whether to intervene in domestic issues at the request of couples, with one constituent insisting that she should persuade his spouse to return to the relationship.
“Members of parliament have a hard job because you do not work five days a week from nine to five. Persons have such great expectations of what you should be, who you should be, and how much you can do,” she said, adding that this requires mental toughness.