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Whither the Throne Speech?

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Sunday, February 16, 2014    

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THERE is still no indication as to when Cabinet will consider the House's approval of a motion from Government back-bencher Raymond Pryce (North East St Elizabeth) to have the annual Throne Speech renamed The People's Speech.

There has been limited public reaction to the motion by the House. In any case, there was very little reaction to the motion inside the chamber after it was tabled in 2012/13 by Pryce, as nobody else considered it important enough to make a contribution. But it was approved in the end.

At the sitting of the House of Representatives on February 4, House Leader Phillip Paulwell assured Pryce that the Cabinet will respond soon to the motion. He was responding to a query from Pryce on the issue being referred to the Cabinet.

This was the second assurance Paulwell has given, as last December he told the press that, in accordance with the Standing Orders, he would ensure that it gets Cabinet's attention.

"I expect that a response will be forthcoming in January to the Parliament," he said, a week after its approval.

Pryce has insisted that his motion is only seeking to replace a British emblem with the primacy of the Jamaican people. He also noted the lack of any response whatsoever from his parliamentary colleagues on either side of the House.

As time draws closer to the opening of the new session of Parliament, however, there is every likelihood that we will see some interest in the subject being triggered, as it raises questions about Jamaica's relationship with the Crown, considering that royal, constitutional and ceremonial duties are still being carried out by the Queen's representative, the Governor General.

"We will ensure that the motion is dealt with in time to accommodate the change, as already approved. I will ensure that it is submitted this month," Paulwell said on February 4. Hopefully, the house leader can give a more definite response on the issue when the House resumes on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the House Leader said that he has been working with Leader of Opposition Business in the House Derrick Smith on not only the final programme for the budget Debate, but also a programme for the sectoral debate, which is likely to include changes to the format.

Paulwell said that the current format of the sectoral debate will have to be changed substantially this year.

"We will make sure that we come up with a structure that will be far more relevant to the Jamaican people, and enable greater interest being shown in those debates. We are trying to ensure that we have a timeline that people can plan the rest of the year on and, all in all, make Parliament far more worker-friendly," he said.

Supplementary Estimates

Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips has advised Opposition spokesmen seeking clarification oN issues pertaining to the economy, that all their questions will be answered during the debate on the Supplementary Estimates, which are to be tabled on February 25.

This followed criticisms from Opposition spokesmen Audley Shaw and Karl Samuda that the minister failed to answer most of their questions, after he delivered a statement, on January 28, updating the House on the economy fiscal performance.

Among those questions was one from the Leader of Opposition Andrew Holness, asking the minister to explain the alleged disparity between his response and that of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to questions on whether more tax increases can be expected by April.

Samuda, the Opposition's spokesman on Industry, Investment and Commerce, said that he had asked 11 questions of the minister following his update, most of which were left unanswered, including a question on capital budget targets set by the Government and not by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"It is clear we had to cut some of our capital expenditure. All these targets are our targets: The primary surplus target is ours; the overall public sector deficit target is ours; inflation target is ours. All of them are ours and we are on track," Phillips responded.

But, Phillips expressed his concern that many of the questions being asked by the Opposition should have been tabled in the House, and not disguised as seeking clarification on his statements.

"It is being used as an alternative to asking by the normal procedure of the House, and creating a kind of laziness of mind in some of our colleagues," Phillips commented.

This week in Parliament

The Special Committee on Tax Measures will meet on Tuesday morning at 10:00 It is expected that the committee will be reviewing the report from the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) on the interim Fiscal Policy Paper report.

Following its deliberations on the tax reform measures in 2012, its chairman, Dr Peter Phillips, had signalled his intention to ask the House to review the role of the committee on tax measures.

Phillips wanted the House to amend the Standing Orders to allow the committee to receive a report from the PAAC by February every year. The report would indicate, among other things, revenue needs, borrowing needs and expenditure needs for the forthcoming fiscal year. The committee would then be empowered to hold hearings and submit a report to the House by March each year, which would outline ways in which the Government should seek to

raise revenue.

Other meetings:

Sitting of the House of Representatives at 2:00 pm on Tuesday, February 18;

Meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) at 10:00 am on Wednesday, February 19;

Meeting of the Joint Select Committee on INDECOM at 2:00 pm on Wednesday, February 19;

Meeting of the Joint Select Committee on the new Bankruptcy & Insolvency Bill, at 10:00 am on Thursday, April 20 (an all-day meeting).

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