PAAC to probe ECJ salaries issue
IT appears that the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of the House of Representatives has finally summoned the courage to ask the Electoral Commission of Jamaica/Electoral Office of Jamaica (ECJ/EOJ) to make an appearance.
This would enable the House of Representatives to bring conclusion to two motions tabled more than a year ago by Opposition MP Everald Warmington, which seek to have the Cabinet approve the discontinuation of payments to ECJ commissioners selected by political parties, and for the salaries of the other commissioners to be brought in line with what is paid to other government commissioners and board members.
The member's motion reflects concerns raised by some members of the public that the salaries paid to the ECJ commissioners (between $8 million and $10 million annually) are much higher than that paid to persons on other government commissions and boards, and that the political parties, and not the ECJ, should stand the cost of their members on the commission.
Warmington's motions actually asked that:
(1) The emoluments paid to the ECJ commissioners be made commensurate with the part-time jobs the commissioners perform, and in line with that paid to members of other governmental commissions and members serving on government boards; and further that the Wig and Robe Allowance now being paid to the commissioners be discontinued (PMM number 3).
(2) Immediate action be taken to terminate the payments being made from the public purse to the political representatives or the 'Nominated Members' on the ECJ, and that if such salaries and allowances are deemed necessary, they be paid by their respective political parties; and that the ECJ (interim) Act be amended to delete section 1(1)(a) of the First Schedule, and any other sections that may make reference to, or empower political representatives to sit on the commission.
Warmington based his call for termination of the salaries paid to political representatives on his view that: the intent of the law was for nominated members to represent their political party on the ECJ; and that "the paramount interest" of those commissioners is to act in the interest of their political parties, and not the people of Jamaica.
The PAAC will have to decide whether his assertions are, in fact, correct and whether this is good reason to discontinue the payments.
The motions were referred to the PAAC in March last year. However, the committee was unclear how to proceed with them.
The committee wrote the Clerk to Parliament Heather Cooke seeking clarification on how to proceed and asked several questions, including: How to address the motions; whether they should be discussed in camera (with the media barred) when ECJ commissioners or EOJ representatives attend to answer questions; and whether the motions are flawed;
Members felt that the motions could be flawed, because PMM number12, for example, seeks to remove the first schedule of the ECJ (Interim) Act and any other section which empowers the political representatives to sit on the ECJ.
The issue was referred to legislative counsel Camika Facey, who responded in November 2013. Her advice was:
(1) The member's statement of his opinion and request that changes be considered (to the Act) is an exercise of his democratic right to have his views (and, implicitly that of the constituents whom he represents) heard and considered;
(2) The House uses its discretion to refer the motions to the committee, as a representative of their membership, to scrutinise and consider the motion in greater detail: This would not have been done if the motion was considered improper;
(3) The committee is therefore charged to operate much in the way as the House would have done, when considering the motions. However, in addition to the views of the members, the committee has an opportunity of closer scrutiny, as well as the option of availing itself of external information which may assist in guiding deliberation.
The counsel also pointed out that the main aim of the committee regarding the two motions is to ensure that the views of the member, which are encapsulated in the motions, are properly ventilated, examined and deliberated upon before a balanced decision is made.
Of even more importance to the public should be the counsel's advice on the question of whether the media should be barred from meetings to which the EOJ/ECJ is invited to answer questions.
(4) "It is submitted that in camera meetings are not necessary for either of these motions, as the information to be considered may already be found in the public domain," Facey said. However, she pointed out that if there is a risk of revelation of confidential information, "the committee may vote to halt the proceedings, and have the chairman demand that all strangers remove themselves from the meeting".
"The motions are not flawed and the committee should treat with them in the manner set out above," the counsel advised.
Strange as it may seem, however, Warmington is insisting that there is no need to invite the EOJ or the ECJ for the committee to make a decision. Leader of the House Phillip Paulwell agrees with him.
However, PAAC chairman, Edmund Bartlett told Inside Parliament last week that the committee believes that it needs the input of the EOJ to make a decision.
"In order for us to decide, we will need information from the EOJ. He wants the law to be amended and in order to decide on what we can do, we need the information on things, like what is the content of their workload and so on, and the only persons who can provide that information are representatives of the EOJ," Bartlett said.
He said that the committee would have decided to invite the EOJ to provide the information last year, but learnt that the commission was at the point when new commissioners were to be appointed and agreed to wait until that process was concluded.