Mon | Jan 30, 2023

Healing among senators

Published:Monday | March 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Dorothy Lightbourne, attorney general.
K.D. Knight

IT WAS the intention of The Gavel to make our return commenting on the credibility of the 2010-2011 Budget tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister Audley Shaw last Thursday.

That project has been put on hold not because of funding constrains, but because we recognise the great need to streamline the way in which the Senate operates.

The events leading up to the suspension of opposition Senator K.D. Knight and the manner in which the former government minister was punished for his 'stupid' comment makes one wonder whether the Government has its priorities in the right place.

Jamaicans will recall that last Thursday, the leader of government business, Dorothy Lightbourne, stressed that it was more than necessary for Parliament to pass the law establishing the Financial Investigations Division (FID) before March 11 in order to satisfy the requirements of the International Monetary Fund.

Not only did Lightbourne table the bill, but she also said in no uncertain terms that it was a priority and that it would be debated the following day.

It was therefore surprising when, on Friday, the government side not only showed up for the sitting of the Senate two hours late, but had relegated the FID bill from priority status.

Suspending K.D. Knight became order of business number one, and a previously unseen impetus for robust discussion and debate from government members was very much evident.

In fact, Tom Tavares Finson, senior government senator and attorney-at-law, shamelessly admitted that the business of the Senate was delayed to craft a three paragraph resolution to satisfy what The Gavel believes to be nothing short of an over-bloated ego.

Dr Ronald Robinson was perhaps at his best when he moved the motion to suspend Knight. "Since the beginning of the life of this Senate, our leader of government business has been subjected to the most disparaging and unparliamentary conduct and utterances from members of the other side," Robinson said as he justified the move against Knight.

"Certainly, two and a half years of enduring these insults, particularly from the member named in this motion, we think that this step is quite necessary," he added.

Let it not be said that The Gavel is against any motion to suspend Knight. Indeed, it is our opinion that at the very least he ought to be properly warned for some of his comments, which if not unparliamentarily, certainly border on that line.

But based on the comments from government members in the debate on Friday, we cannot help but think Knight was being taken to task for continuously, and tactlessly exposing the lack of confidence that Lightbourne brings to the job of the leader of government business.

For sure, Knight has justifiably called attention to the tumultuous fumbling by Lightbourne in the leadership she brings to the Senate. Perhaps that is why some government senators have been relying onbullyism and counter-insurgency tactics to protect her.

This, however, would not have been necessary if President Oswald Harding had been properly exercising his duty to protect the members.

In the case of Friday's blot, Harding must be made to answer for his injudicious decision to allow Knight to be tried and sentenced in absentia.

Leader of Opposition Business A.J. Nicholson made an impassioned plea for the debate to be suspended to allow Knight to defend himself at the next sitting. He asked the president to suggest to the mover of the motion that the Senate proceed in this manner.

May's parliamentary practice

One will recall that two weeks ago when Knight told Lightbourne that she was "rude and stupid", Harding asked him to withdraw the comment and was told by Knight that May's Parliamentary Practice gives him the latitude to say what he did. Seemingly ignorant to the provision in May's, Harding allowed the comment to stand.

However, one week later, without Knight in the chamber to defend himself or to bring attention to the relevant section in May's, Harding sat back and gave the noose to the hangman.

One would have thought that if Harding wanted to appear fair, he would have at least requested that the motion be laid on the table for at least a day, allowing time for Knight to show up to the Senate.

We reject any suggestion that trying Knight in absentia was the best thing for the Government. Indeed, Tavares-Finson has made the point that he too has read May's and that it does not give Knight any such right to insult any member and also that he had breached the Standing Orders of the Senate.

Beyond Harding's indiscretion, one must not allow the opportunity to pass without questioning what has gone so horribly wrong between both sides, so much so that walking out of Parliament has become commonplace for the Opposition.

We wonder what has happened to those days when the leaders of both sides met in the corridors to work out solutions to sticking points, or behind the president's chair to resolve an impasse.

We accept that our system of government is an adversarial one, but we believe that far too often and for too long political consideration and one-upmanship have surpassed the need to put Jamaica's business at the centre.

Returning credibility

This unsavoury element of our politics has crept into the Senate and it must be removed.

Notwithstanding the raw emotions that the Robinson motion may have left on both sides of the political divide in the Senate, we believe there is a need for healing among senators.

There is ample need for dialogue so as to remove the perception of mistrust and ill will on either side. At the same time, we urge Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller to do the unthinkable and recall two senators from both sides and replace them with truly independent members.

We feel this is important to return credibility to the Senate and will encourage the best of non-confrontational Jamaicans to attend to the business of passing laws on the country's behalf.

We feel this is important to return credibility to the Senate and will encourage the best of non-confrontational Jamaicans to attend to the business of passing laws on the country's behalf.