Review of Sexual Offences Act resumes Tuesday

Review of Sexual Offences Act resumes Tuesday

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Saturday, April 22, 2017

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The Joint Select Committee (JSC), which has been completing the review of the Sexual Offences Acts, will resume meeting on Tuesday morning at Gordon House.

The new JSC was established in December 2016 by the Government, with current chairman being Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, replacing his predecessor Senator Mark Golding.

It has met twice, including in February when Police Superintendent Enid Ross-Stewart, head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), landed a shocker when she informed the committee that clergymen and policemen were the most consistent "high-profile" people being arrested for having sex with girls under the age of 16.

Superintendent Ross-Stewart’s declaration, coming on the heels of the media exposure of two leaders of the Moravian Church community, former President Dr Paul Gardner and his former deputy, Jermaine Gibson, being arrested on charges of carnal abuse and indecent assault in January, was a major news issue then.

Ross Stewart added that CISOCA’s arrest of a number of ministers of religion recently on similar charges was nothing new.

However, while the previous committee headed by Senator Golding did quite a bit of work on the review, it was haunted by the fact that the local gay committee, buoyed by a promise from former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller prior to the 2011 General Election, that she would address their claims of discriminatory anti-buggery legislation, were making some noise about the buggery legislation.

One gay activist, lawyer Maurice Tomlinson, actually accused Simpson Miller of a "blatant betrayal" for refusing to abolish Jamaica’s buggery legislation. But, a church group, the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS), led by Dr Wayne West, strongly opposed any reform of buggery legislation in the process.

Senator Golding said he would not be surprised if the contending parties used the opportunity provided by the review to make their cases for and against repealing the buggery legislation. But he made it clear that this should not be seen as the aim of the exercise. At that time, then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness suggested a referendum to decide the issue, contending that a conscience vote in Parliament would not be effective.

New chairman Delroy Chuck insists that he is open to a discussion on all the issues surrounding the Acts involved and the role of the committee, which is to consider and rev existing legislation which purport to, among other things, protect women, children, the disabled and the elderly from violence and abuse, including the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act.

The committee will eventually make recommendations for legislative amendment, not restricted to the stated legislation under review, for the better administration of justice and the effective protection of these special groups, as it deems necessary.

The committee comprises: Chuck (Chairman); Senator Golding; Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sport Olivia "Babsy" Grange; Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator, Kamina Johnson Smith; minister of state (education, youth and information, Floyd Green; Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert (Trelawny Southern); Lisa Hanna (St Ann South Eastern); Dr Lynvale Bloomfield (Portland Eastern); Denise Daley (St Catherine Eastern); Senator Ransford Braham; Senator Saphire Longmore; and Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns.

*** The two Bills completing the Property Tax implementation process — the Property Tax (Amendment) (No 2) 2007, and the Property tax (Validation and Indemnity Act — were approved in the Senate Friday, after a lengthy debate which sounded more like the State of the Nation.

Opposition Senators took the position that the increases were unnecessary, as they claimed they resulted from the $1.5-million tax threshold benefit introduced by the Government on April 1 to fulfil its election campaign promise. They also claimed that the increase to $1.5 million of the income tax threshold (moving from just below $600 million) did not benefit the workers, who would be paying more taxes in other areas due to inflation, and that the reduced rates announced last week were still too high.

The Government responded that the tax package introduced in the 2017/18 Budget Debate had already covered the $13.5-million gap created by the increased treshold and did not provide any additional tax revenue, as it was revenue neutral, as confirmed by the International Monetary Fund. They also pointed out that the tax revenues from property tax were specifically meant fo road maintenance, streetlights and garbage collection by the parish municipal corporations and could not be lodged into the Consolidated Fund.

The Government also noted that the significant increases in property tax experienced this time was due to the former Government’s failure to evaluate and implement property values on time, including implementing the re-evaulation which was done in 2013.

But what was most interesting about the exchange was Government Senator Lambert Brown’s explanation of why the new rates were not implemented in 2013.

According to him:

"The reality is that we applied wisdom. We chose not to pressure the people. But you now come in and decide, as I said earlier, that the people must pay more taxes, as if that is a good thing. I don’t share it, that taxing the people is a good thing, especially when those taxes can be avoided," Brown said.

Government members reminded Senator Brown that they could not be avoided because they are a legal requirement every five years, and the money collected goes from the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development to the Parish Councils/Municipal Corporations to pay for their responsibilities and not into the Consolidated Fund.

This week’s Gordon House schedule:

• Tuesday, April 25, 2:00 pm — Siitting of the House of Representatives (Sectoral Debate);

• Wednesday, April 26, 10:00 am — Public Administration & Appropriations Committee;

2:00 pm — Sitting of the House of Representatives (Sectoral Debate)

• Friday, April 28, 9:00 am — Sitting of the Senate.

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