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Friday marked five years since passage of Disability Bill

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Sunday, October 13, 2019

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The Disabilities Act was passed in the Senate on October 10, 2014, and on Friday, exactly 10 years later, the Senate was still debating why it has not yet been implemented.

A resolution from the former president, Senator Floyd Morris, seems to be igniting a call for Gordon House to speed up whatever plans it has for improving the accommodation of visitors with disabilities. However, the Senate failed to complete that debate on Friday, and the fourth anniversary of its passage passed without any fanfare.

This is unlike when it was passed in 2014, after showing up the blatant omission of access to the upper floors of Gordon House which includes the galleries, the main offices and the chamber, itself.

Two notable additions have taken place since then: (1) the employment of a sign language expert as the medium for deaf viewers; and (2) the extension of the service provided by the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ), which now offers decent live coverage of the events on a daily basis.

The benefit of the latter certainly is not really aimed at deaf persons, but obviously without the television coverage there would be no need for a sign language expert, in the first place.

One of the marvels of watching the expert, when one does not understand sign language, is how do those viewers follow the proceedings sometimes, with the shouting that often accompanies debates.

Sometimes it is really hard to digest the fact that the Senate is regarded as a “Upper House”, which in the Westminster system really means a chamber that is intended to produce expert expressions in addressing issues based on facts. And so the Senate often fails to produce the quality input that would not necessarily return after an election.

Senator Morris's resolution included the need to adopt a 2014 report submitted by a team, comprising representatives of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech); the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), and Canada's Carlton University, on the state of access to the building.

We learnt on Friday that the primary issue holding up the Bill lately is the fact that a Code of Practice which, essentially, details the rights of persons with disabilities, has not yet been produced.

Well, the fact is that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) did promise that the Code would have been ready by the end of 2018, but that target was missed. However, hopefully, it could be completed in time to have the Act implemented before the end of 2019.

Incidentally, the debate on Friday was suspended again, for the third time since June. But, there seemed to be more sincerity in this delay, which is to accommodate debate on the a state of emergency (SOE) issue, as well as to accommodate what Senate President Tom Tavares Finson described as an important input from Government Senator Ransford Braham.

New Leader of Opposition Business in the House

Dr Morais Guy has taken up position as the new leader of government business in the House of Representatives.

Dr Guy, who has replaced Phillip Paulwell in that position, had a perfect start to his career as he helped to maintain some control over members who seemed excited by recent developments.

After the Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles welcomed him into the new position he commented on the Government's decision to withdraw the ministerial order to extend the timing for access to Government information:

“This side supports the (new) motion. This side also recognises that good sense has prevailed on the part of the Government in withdrawing this motion, and this side, the Opposition, cannot fathom why, in an age of increasing transparency by the populace, that it would seek to extend the time to 70 years,” Dr Guy said.

“Having said that, this side supports it and to say that we will work together to ensure that we have a proper reduction, or a proper period of years which we are more comfortable with,” he added.

But, after that came a virtual “baptism of fire”, with both men kept busy trying to calm nerves as Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Ronald Thwaites took on the minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, once again.

The exchanges between the two seem to be highlighting most of the recent sittings, and probably ensuring that Thwaites leaves the House firing on all cylinders having made it known that he does not intend to seek re-election to his Kingston Centralseat.

For example, two weeks ago, the two clashed over whether teachers should have sent home students from schools in the midst of the strike by bus service.

Thwaites felt that they had no right to do so, as the school was the better place for the children to stay. But Samuda couldn't understand how the former Education Minister could condone keeping children inside school, when there was so much confusion over how they would get back home.

Then last week, Thwaites decided to take on the minister again, by suggesting that the House Committee's report on the Access to Information Act, which was released in 2011, was sufficient for a debate on whatever changes the Government felt necessary to the Act.

But Samuda silenced him with the reminder that the 2011 report could not be sufficient, as it did not cover the Official Secrets Act and the Archives Act, which have also been assigned to the committee to be chaired by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck.

Incidentally, prior to that, the two also took opposing positions on the issue of whether teachers should be fingerprinted on arrival for work, with Samuda siding with the teachers and the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) against unilaterally fingerprinting. Thwaites apparently sided with the principals who felt the need to ensure that the teachers are honest about their presence at school.

Senator Andre Haughton

So everyone is waiting for the next controversial position of newly-minted Opposition Senator Andre Haughton.

After suggesting that “bad words” be legalised in dance halls, the youthful senator has now imposed himself as the Senate's “breast man”.

The goodly Senator also has a habit of occupying himself with his laptop while the Senate is sitting, which may be a good idea to follow until he understands the civility of the “Upper House”.


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