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Senators exchange barbs over PM's trips

Saturday, December 21, 2013    

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PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller's frequent overseas trips took centre stage in the Senate Thursday, as senators diverted from debating a bill amending the Companies Act to facilitate ease of doing business, to comment on the controversial issue.

Government Senator Lambert Brown said that the Prime Minister was not the "frequent flyer" she is being labelled by the public, but a "frequent achiever", who brings back goodies from her overseas trips.

"I see the frequent achiever going to China and consolidating the benefits that were negotiated before," he commented. "I see not a frequent flyer, but a frequent achiever, and that's what Jamaica needs: more achievements," said Brown.

But Opposition Senator Robert Montague, who has been acting as Leader of Opposition Business, said that the concern was about the expenditure and the large number of private sector people who travel at the expense of taxpayers.

"Nobody has any ill-will against the Honourable Prime Minister on her travels. What we are concerned about is the expenditure taxpayers have been called upon to pay," Senator Montague said.

Senator K D Knight said that as a former minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, he was aware that the benefits from overseas travels can continue for years. "I see the benefits accruing to this country to date, from some of the travelling I made. The point that I make is that, if from the travels of a minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade such benefits can accrue to the country, what then the benefits if it is the prime minister of the country?" Senator Knight said.

He said that what the country needs to do "is not so much to focus on how often the travels are done, but what are the returns from the travel", adding that the criticisms of the prime minister's travel should not appear to be malicious.

The focus on the prime minister's travel was initiated by an intervention by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator A J Nicholson, who was angered by a demands made by Opposition Senator Kavan Gayle during his presentation on the Companies (Amendment) Act, that the Government must seek to complete the transformation of the public sector to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of Bills like the Companies (Amendment) Act.

Senator Nicholson said that while he was "buoyed" by Senator Gayle's initial positive reaction to the Bill, he was annoyed by his later demand.

The Senate eventually passed the Bill, which aims at making the registrar of companies a one-stop shop for registering new businesses.

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