THE Joint Select Committee on the new Bill, the Security Interests in Personal Property Act, 2013, will start sitting on Thursday at 10:00 am at Gordon House.
The legislation deals with security interests in personal property, and will provide for a simple registration process for the recognition of such interests and stipulate the rules that will govern what is the priority in enforcing these interests.
A security interest is a contract involving one or more items of personal property, in which there is a need to secure the fulfilment of any obligations under which the property is held.
The Human Resource and Social Development Committee, chaired by Opposition MP Rudyard Spencer, will meet this morning at 10:00 to continue hearing submissions on the tobacco control regulations. This will be followed by the meeting of the House of Representatives at 2:00 pm.
The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), chaired by Opposition MP Edmund Bartlett, will meet tomorrow morning at 10:00; and the Joint Select Committee on the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) will meet that afternoon at 2:00.
The Senate will meet on Friday at 10:00 am and is expected to debate the recommendations from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) on political campaign financing.
The report was approved in the House of Representatives on September 24, after Leader of the House, Phillip Paulwell, compromised with MPs still opposed to the recommendations, by proposing to send the draft bill, expected from the Cabinet after approval of the recommendations, to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.
Paulwell made the suggestion after two Opposition MPs -- Everald Warmington (South West St Catherine) and Daryl Vaz (West Portland) -- expressed dissatisfaction with the recommendations in the House which threatened to balloon into a full-scale debate.
The continued delay remains a threat to the approval of the recommendations as they stand, as well as to the convention which has been observed on previous occasions, to approve the ECJ's recommendations without changes. The convention is based on the fact that both major political parties have representatives on the ECJ, at which level differences are expected to be ironed out.
However, the current situation was not unexpected, considering the far-reaching effect of these recommendations on how political parties and, by extension, democratic elections, are financed.
There has been a strong view, for some time, among the parliamentarians that the convention ought not to take precedence in issues which so fundamentally affect the political process.
This view seems very strong among members of the Senate, as well, who want to make their individual input into the formulation of the final document. Probably what was more surprising was the excuse the senators gave for delaying the debate on Friday -- that several of them had to attend funerals.
Maybe some of the Parliamentarians have been following the US Supreme Court's consideration of a case seeking to strike down limits on campaign funding to candidates and party committees.
In the US case, McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission, the US Supreme Court's conservatives argue for removing the limits on the basis that they violate the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. However, their opponents feel that there is a danger that removing the limits will make elected officials obligated to big donors, and ensure a government controlled by rich donors.
However, there are a number of questions to be answered including: whether huge donations actually usurp the ordinary people's right to control their political organisations, in terms of their numbers, and, whether the democratic process should protect the right of rich donors to spend as much as they want to influence, not only the vote, but also the party's political direction.
Two fundamental questions were raised by Warmington and Vaz in the House: whether the public should be burdened with the additional cost of financing political campaigns, and whether the candidates should be so limited in accessing private funding, including caps on loans.
These are very important issues which the country has to grapple with as the process continues, and it seems quite logical that the parliamentarians would want to express their views on the matter.
Therefore, the logical thing to do would be for the Senate to proceed with its debate this week, so that members can air their views and, as the House leader has promised, when the bill comes from the Cabinet it is sent to a joint select committee. However, one needs to bear in mind that the bill, when it comes from the Cabinet, will not have any changes to the current recommendations, so why not resolve the issues from now? And, whenever the bill goes to a joint select committee it could mean the end of the convention that has held for more than a decade.
Controversial Opposition MP, Everald Warmington, tabled some motions in the House of Representatives last Tuesday which are also related to the work of the ECJ.
In one motion Warmington asked the House to call on former ECJ president Dr Herbert Thompson to "immediately relinquish his position as a commissioner of the ECJ". In the others he asked that:
(1) Section 44 (3) of the Representation of the People Act be amended, to ensure that whenever a presiding officer finds the counterfoil of a ballot paper still attached, he must remove it above or below the perforated lines on the ballot;
(2) Section 35 (3) of the Act be amended to allow voters to use any instrument that they find appropriate or convenient to mark the ballot, instead of a mandatory "black lead pencil", and that any mark made by the elector against the name of a candidate of his/her choice shall be valid, instead of the mandatory cross (x);
(3) Section 33 of the same Act be amended to allow polling stations to remain open until 6:00 pm, instead of the current 5:00 pm.
Warmington's suggestions regarding the counterfoil and the use of any marking instrument seem quite straightforward changes, which should not be difficult to address. However, in terms of the later opening of the voting stations, the issue of nightfall and the distances some ballot boxes will have to travel to the returning centres will arise.
The matter of Thompson's resignation will certainly be referred to the Human Resource and Social Development Committee, which looked at his resolution on the need for a political ombudsman earlier this year which ended with the retirement of Bishop Herro Blair.