Greater participation for backbenchers in Parliament
Parliament has adjusted its Standing Orders to allow for greater participation of backbenchers during parliamentary sittings.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew East Rural, Juliet Holness, noted that Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursdays, were set aside for private members’ motions to be heard, but Parliament is not generally attended by MPs on that day unless Budget presentations are being made.
“The latest suggestion made was that when the Sectoral presentations are completed, which deal with the Budget, instead of moving into constituency debates, we are going to allow a period now to deal with private members’ motions as a priority, so that we get those coming through,” Holness said.
“That change was made very recently by the Parliament, and persons who are on the government side especially have been encouraged not to sit there and leave only the Opposition to go through the process of coming with private members’ motions,” she added.
She was responding to a question posed by Executive Director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, Jeanette Calder, who is concerned about how “regular attendance and active participation” as key deliverables would be defined in the job descriptions for parliamentarians.
The joint select committee of Parliament considering job descriptions, codes of conduct, and performance standards for parliamentarians, hosted a town hall meeting on Sunday, September 24, at Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston.
Meanwhile, second-year university student Dontae Minto suggested that all MPs host town hall meetings in their constituency as his MP for St Ann North Western, Krystal Lee, has done.
“It’s really good when she does it and it’s really important for engagement; and it’s really good to get the opportunity to come and speak,” Minto said.
He further raised concerns about the evolution of the governance structure, noting that the role of MPs to legislate has overlapped with the role of councillors.
“Initially, it was intended that councillors would be the first point of contact, but persons kind of overstep councillors now and they look to MPs for things. In creating the job description, how will we make that distinction, and what will we stick with? The old way or the new way of what the people now demand?” he asked.
In response, Holness reasoned that town hall meetings are good, as they allow constituents to have an input, but they are costly, especially given the budget of MPs.
She agreed with Minto that the work of MPs has evolved, as they began to work in keeping with what constituents expected of them.
“Councillors are, in fact, supposed to be doing a lot of the legwork. It has fallen on a lot of members of parliament to do so at the constituency level. That is something we have to fix. So, we have looked at job descriptions for MPs, but I’m sure in future town halls, we will be looking at job descriptions for councillors and if you look on the municipal corporation’s website, you will actually see what the role and responsibility of councillors are,” she explained.