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How Parliament could change controversial clause in anti-corruption bill

Published:Monday | July 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck piloted the anti-corruption bill through the House of Representatives in January.

The Government is facing mounting pressure to remove a section of an anti-corruption bill that would allow Cabinet to designate some contracts ‘confidential’ and require that investigators seek permission before starting a probe.

For the National Integrity Action and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the section, which is part of Clause 52 of the Integrity Commission bill, is “unacceptable” and could undermine the purpose of the proposed law.

The bill was approved in the Senate last Thursday with 103 amendments, which means that it has to go back to the House of Representatives for further approval.

The bill originated in the House where it was tabled by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and approved on January 31.

The Government has given no indication it will consider any further changes. 
The House meets tomorrow for possibly its last sitting before the summer break and could consider the bill.

But that review, according to the House rules (Standing Orders), could restrict efforts to change the contentious provision, if the Government is so minded.

Standing Order 60 deals with House procedures on Senate amendments.

It states that members of parliament (MPs) can simply accept the amendments on a motion or can choose to delay consideration. If there are disagreements, the MPs have the option of writing to the Senate outlining their position.

Importantly, in this case, the Standing Orders say “no amendment may be proposed to a Senate amendment save an amendment strictly relevant ...nor may an amendment be moved to the Bill unless the amendment be relevant to or consequent upon either the acceptance or rejection of a Senate amendment”.

The amendments proposed by the Senate for the Integrity Commission bill do not relate to Clause 52.

All is not lost, however, as perhaps recognising that something may miss the House, the framers of the Constitution included a section that allows for changes unrelated to Senate amendments.

Section 57 of the Constitution states that the House may “suggest” amendments which only the Senate can debate.

“The House of Representatives, may, if it thinks fit ... suggest any amendments without inserting the amendments in the Bill, and any such amendments shall be considered by the Senate,” the section reads.

Now, if the Senate agrees, the Constitution says that will also be treated as an agreement by the House and therefore the bill does not have to return to the MPs.

The regular procedures would kick in, which include the bill going to the governor general for signing and then publication in the Jamaica Gazette to complete the law making process.

Another option open to the Government is allowing the Integrity Commission bill in its current form to become law and then later on introducing an amendment. 

It could also withdraw the bill altogether.

The legislation will allow the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency with investigative and prosecutorial powers.