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Lack of space at Gordon House hampers committees

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Monday, May 19, 2014    

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OPPOSITION spokesman and chairman of the House of Representatives' Economy and Production Committee Karl Samuda has blamed the lack of facilities at Gordon House for the failure of his committee to meet to discuss the issue of bank fees and charges.

"The Government has to come to grips with the shortcomings (of this House) and do something about it, so that we can get the business of the House handled in an efficient manner," Samuda pleaded with Speaker Michael Peart.

He noted that, in addition to the inadequate facilities, there was a strain on the overworked staff and amenities.

Peart said that he had asked the deputy clerk to make space and time for Samuda's committee to meet this week. He said that Samuda's issues were long-term ones, which would have to be dealt with as part of the long-term plans for Gordon House.

The exchange, which was triggered by a request from Government back-bencher Fitz Jackson to have a date set for the committee to resume its review of the fees, brought to the fore again the constant problem with the House accommodating not only its committees, but also its staff, the media, the large number of security personnel on meeting days and visitors.

The Government has already overturned plans initiated by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding to have Gordon House expanded, by buying unused, deserted premises on Mark Lane behind the Parliament. The current plan is to go forward with the long-term programme to move Gordon House to National Heroes' Circle. This idea was proposed more than two decades ago, but has not found favour with the public, and it is very unlikely to do so under the current tight economic conditions.

However, the legislative programme is also to be blamed for the current crisis, as the Government's efforts to meet timelines set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have resulted in a backlog of legislation currently before joint select committees, leaving little time and space for regular select committees to meet.

Two major issues taking up much of the House's space and time are the review of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill, by a joint select committee chaired by Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton, which has been meeting for the past six months, but has been moving very slowly in completing its work.

The other is a new joint select committee chaired by Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips, which seems to be in a mad rush to complete its review of the Banking Services Bill.

Dr Phillips' committee had to meet at his ministry last week, and was scheduled to meet last Friday to Sunday at an undisclosed "residential" location in a bid to meet its timeline.

The Banking Services Bill also suffered a major setback Wednesday when Phillips had to withdraw the original Bill, and replace with a new Bill, citing numerous errors in the draft.

This Bill will amend the provisions affecting the regulation and supervision of banks, merchant banks and building societies, currently contained in three separate statutes. In addition, it will ensure that the regulatory framework meets Basel Core Principles for effective banking supervision.

One major amendment is a proposal that the appointment of the governor of the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) should be taken out of the hands of the minister of finance and be made completely independent of the minister.

Another is that similar appointment mechanisms for the external persons, comprising a proposed supervisory committee and supervisory appeals board, be established for the appointment of senior BOJ officials.

Accordingly, the power to grant or revoke licences for deposit-taking institutions will be vested in the BOJ, instead of the minister, as in the case with the Financial Services Commission (FSC), which is empowered to grant and revoke licences for the institutions it supervises.

The Bill also seeks to address conglomerate and consolidated supervision comprehensively and contains provisions regarding the operation of financial holding companies.

The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill seeks to implement recommendations from an Insolvency Review Committee which dates back to the previous Administration, and emphasises the need to create an enabling legal and regulatory environment for the implementation of insolvency laws.

The Bill aims at consolidating the laws relating to bankruptcy, insolvency, receivership, provisional supervision and winding up, as well as provide for corporate and individual insolvency and rehabilitation of an insolvent debtor.

This Bill was tabled in December last year and despite the support of Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding and National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who have acted as chairs on several occasions, as well as extensions of deadlines by the IMF, is still plodding on past the last deadline, which was the end of April.

This week, the powerful Public Administration and Appropriations Committee is expected to resume its weekly meetings, which should put even more pressure on the resources.

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