Parliament takes summer break
PARLIAMENTARIANS closed their post-Easter session on Wednesday for what Leader of the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell described as "a very short break", which will end in early September.
Paulwell urged members to recharge their batteries, "because when we return we do have a battery of other legislation that we have to consider and approve during the course of the remaining financial year".
Leader of Opposition Business Derrick Smith responded that the Opposition will return in September "ready to keep the Government on its toes".
Warmington's electoral motions approved
Vocal Opposition MP Everald Warmington had some major successes in the House of Representatives Tuesday with the approval of four of his seven Private Member's Motions (PMMs), which are now to be referred to the Cabinet.
The four motions, all of which have to do with the electoral or voting process in elections, had been on the Order Paper for up to two years and were at various stages of the process, despite their relevance and the fact that most members are in agreement with the proposals.
One of the motions, seeking to curtail the salaries of members of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), has been with the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) for months. Two were withdrawn on Tuesday, including one calling for the removal of Dr Herbert Thompson from the ECJ.
Warmington's PMM number eight seeks to amend Section 35(3) of the Representation of the People Act (ROPA), which states that "The elector... shall forthwith enter one of the polling compartments and there mark his ballot paper by making a cross (x) with a black lead pencil within the space containing the name of the candidate for whom he intends to vote..."
Warmington contended that there are implements, other than a black lead pencil, that can be used to effect the mark for the candidate of one's choice; and there are marks other than a cross (x) that an elector may make in the space containing the name of the candidate.
So he asked that the House take the necessary action to have the appropriate amendments done to Section 35(3) of the Act to provide that any implement that an elector finds appropriate or convenient to use to make the required mark shall be lawful.
He also asked that further amendments be made to the said Section 35(3) of the Act, to make any mark placed on a ballot by an elector in the space containing the name of the candidate of his choice valid, and not limited to a cross (x).
His PMM number 10 said:
"Whereas Section 44(3) of the Representation of the People Act (the Act) states "If, in the course of counting the votes any ballot paper is found with the counterfoil still attached thereto, the presiding officer shall (carefully concealing the numbers thereon from all persons present, and without examining them himself) remove and destroy such counterfoil. He shall not reject the ballot merely by reason of his former failure to remove the counterfoil."
He moved that that this section of the Act should also be amended to state, "or the counterfoil having been removed above or below the perforated lines".
PMM number 12 stated:
"Whereas Section 41A (1) of the Representation of the People Act (the Act) specifies that every candidate in an election may appoint such person as he thinks fit to be an outdoor agent, and shall issue to any such outdoor agent appointed by him a certificate of appointment in the prescribed form specifying the polling station in respect of which the agent is appointed;
"And whereas, in many cases, returning officers, election day workers, auxiliary or one-day police and members of the security forces have prevented these said agents from effectively carrying out the functions for which they were appointed;
"And whereas the reason given is that these agents cannot be on the compound where the poll is being conducted, and, in other cases, these agents must be hundreds of metres away from the polling station;
"And whereas Section 41A (3) of the Act specifies the distance for the outdoor agents to be not less than 20 yards from the polling stations;
"And whereas no agent can carry out the function for which he or she was appointed being such distance from where polling is being conducted:
"Be it resolved that Section 41A(1) of the Act be amended to allow the persons appointed by a candidate as his agents to be within the precincts of, and closer than the 20 yards to the polling stations, as now specified, so that the agents will be able to carry out the duties for which they were appointed."
Warmington's fourth approved motion (PMM number 22) asked that:
"Whereas paragraph 1(1) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Commission (Interim) Act (hereinafter referred to as "the Act") states: "The commission shall consist of nine members...", which includes the director of elections;
"And whereas paragraph 1(1)(c) makes the director of elections "eligible to vote at meetings of the commission";
"And whereas in its report dated October 1, 2008, submitted to Parliament, the Electoral Commission appeared to suggest that the director of elections should not be eligible to vote at meetings of the commission:
"Be it resolved that Parliament take immediate action to amend paragraph 1(1) of the First Schedule of the Act, so that the director of elections will no longer be eligible to vote at meetings of the commission."
There were some concerns raised in the debate about the implications of not using designated markers and whether the director of elections should be allowed to vote as a member of the ECJ, but, generally, the MPs supported the proposals.
The fact that the motions have now been passed by the House is a tribute to the member's persistence, which now seems quite necessary if backbenchers and Opposition MPs are to have their voices heard in the House of Representatives, especially since this period of IMF/Extended Fund Facility (EFF) domination of the proceedings at Gordon House.
This is one of the primary reasons this column has consistently opposed any severe limitations on the Opposition MPs and Government backbenchers in the sectoral debate. This debate is the only opportunity available to them to address both constituency issues and national issues which affect them.
It is a serious concern that members of the Senate, who are not elected and, therefore, do not represent constituents, although they may represent special interests, can speak on any issue, on any occasion, for as long as they wish, with the consent of their colleagues, while MPs elected by thousands of electors are so limited in speaking in the House.
However, House Leader Phillip Paulwell had his motion to have the Standing Orders Committee of the House deliberate on his proposal to reform the Sectoral Debate, as well as review the entire Standing Orders, approved on Tuesday.
Paulwell has been insisting, for the past two years, that the format of the debate should be changed, primarily limiting the amount of time the members are allowed to speak.
He told the House of Representatives in closing the 2014/15 Sectoral Debate last month:
"Mr Speaker, for a number or years these debates have been criticised for their lack of structure and length. I wish to acknowledge that for next year it cannot be business as usual. For one, for the next financial year, we have to conclude the Budget Debate prior to March 31. Further, we will have to modify the operations of the Standing Finance Committee in order to achieve this. In the same breath, the Sectoral Debates will have to be more structured and time-sensitive.
"In that regard, I have written to the Leader of Opposition Business expressing these intentions with a view of engaging a process of reform. I wish to assure this House that this reform will have an end, because it must be implemented next year."