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What a disgrace! Senate at odds over minister's proposed role in granting urban renewal incentives

Published:Friday | February 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

UNPATRIOTIC AND disgrace were just some of the words uttered in the Upper House yesterday to describe the actions of Opposition senators after they almost blocked passage of a bill being touted as part of the plan to jump-start the redevelopment of downtown Kingston.

The Urban Renewal [Tax Relief] Act 2015 was expected to pass through the Senate without controversy, especially after Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Tom Tavares-Finson expressed support for the proposed legislation.

However, with five senators each on both sides of the aisle and to the surprise of Government senators, Tavares-Finson asked that the bill be put to a vote.

Opposition senators Marlene Malahoo-Forte, Robert Montague, Ruel Reid and Kavan Gayle subsequently joined Tavares-Finson in voting against the proposed legislation, which seeks to provide incentives to persons who invest in the redevelopment of areas across the country that are suffering from blight or urban decay.

The bill was, however, passed by a 7-5 majority after Opposition Senator Nigel Clarke - with prodding from Government senators to vote his conscience - broke ranks with his colleagues and voted to approve it.

Foreign Affairs Minister Senator A.J. Nicholson walked into the Chamber just in time to cast his vote and ensure that the bill was passed.

The actions of the Opposition senators [excluding Clarke, who was lauded for his stance] left Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding and other government senators livid.

"To try and use their majority [in the Chamber at the time] to block the bill from a second reading when they have no real basis and their leader said it expressly that he supported the bill, I think is a disgrace, quite frankly," Golding said to thunderous applause from his colleagues.

"It fundamentally belies this notion about a new type of politics. That is pure hypocrisy and nonsense," the minister fumed.

The proposed legislation, which will now go to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen to be signed into law, seeks to amend the Urban Renewal [Tax Relief] Act, which was enacted in 1995 to provide relief from income tax, stamp duty and transfer tax for persons and organisations who carry out development in areas suffering from blight or urban decay.

The amendment confers on the relevant minister the power to amend or vary orders made under the act for special development areas and for declaration of approved developers.

Pointing out that the bill was in the interest of the nation's development, Government Senator Lambert Brown charged that "people" allowed partisan politics to prevail.

"People say with their mouths they support it and then vote against it going to the next step to make it into law..." said Brown.

He also praised Clarke's action, saying his respect for the first-time lawmaker has "grown significantly. "And I hope that the fate that others from the Senate have suffered does not befall him," Brown said.

Nicholson, the veteran lawmaker, also chided his Opposition counterparts for their actions, pointing out that there was nothing unethical or controversial about what the proposed legislation seeks to accomplish.

"The Lord moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. Arriving in the nick of time, I am pleased to have prevented this Senate from falling into a hole - a partisan political hole - against the interest of the people of Jamaica," Nicholson said of his decisive vote.

The Senate also passed the Financial Administration and Audit Act and the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act.