Ferguson stands firm but admits tobacco ban untidy

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 18, 2013

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MINISTER of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson says the Public Health Act (PHA) empowers him to take the decisions he has taken to ban public smoking, without seeking Parliament's approval.


"Sections 14 and 15 of the Public Health Act empowers the minister to take the decisions I have taken," Dr Ferguson told Opposition members who had raised concerns in the House of Representatives on Tuesday as to whether he had the power to introduce the ban by order on Monday.


"The Public Health Act is one of the most powerful Acts anywhere in Jamaica, in terms of what the minister can do without coming to Parliament," Ferguson said.


He said that Section 14 of the Act gives him the power to ban smoking in defined areas, while the Health and Allied Professions and Services Act of 2011 gave him the power to increase penalties for breaches under the ban, from the maximum $50,000 stated in Section 15 of the PHA to the $1 million being imposed under the ban.


Dr Ferguson said that his decision was based on the legal opinion of both the Attorney General's Department and the Ministry of Justice. But, Ferguson did not explain what influenced him into changing his mind and seeking legal opinion on using the PHA, after constantly informing the public up, to early June, that the ban would have been promulgated under the draft Anti-Tobacco Bill, which he had promised would be tabled in Parliament, soon.


"It is about to go to Cabinet," Ferguson told the Jamaica Observer after the formalities to mark World No Tobacco Day at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in Kingston on Friday, May 31.


However, he agreed with Opposition MP Everald Warmington (South West St Catherine), who raised the concerns about how implementation of the ban was handled.


Warmington said that as a Member of Parliament he did not even know what was included in the regulations. "The whole thing is untidy," he commented.


"As the people's representatives in this House, we ought to know what the minister is instituting. We don't have an idea. There must be something laid in this House for us to know what we are dealing with," he insisted.


Ferguson said that Warmington was right, and that there was a need to table the gazetted regulations in the House of Representatives, and to amend the PHA to ensure that, in the future, such far reaching decisions have to be approved by affirmative resolution in Parliament before they are implemented.


"I think it is the better way of doing it, but don't tell me I am not empowered to do so now," Ferguson stated.


"In the future, as minister, I am giving a commitment to amend the Public Health Act, that it will at least need an affirmative resolution from the House. I think that it is a better method of governance, therefore, it is my desire to do so," the minister added.


He said that he would table the regulations which were gazetted last Friday when the House meets again on Tuesday.


However, the minister dismissed a proposal from the Leader of Opposition Business, Delroy Chuck, to roll back the ban, pending affirmative action by the House.


Chuck claimed that Ferguson had gone about the ban the wrong way, and suggested that he put it on hold, until the regulations were tabled in the House and the public fully educated about the provisions and their implications. But, Ferguson said a roll back was out of the question.


"There is no confusion. Let it not go out to Jamaica that there is any confusion about the effective date," he said.


"For a year-and-a-half, I was saying to the country that we are going to deal with tobacco control. A lot of people just didn't believe it was going to happen," he said.


 

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