Horse trading in the House

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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Horse trading, in its literal sense, refers to the buying and selling of horses, and is also called “horse dealing”.

Evaluating the merits of purchasing a horse being sold creates an opportunity for the kind of bargaining which gives rise to, sadly underhanded practices in getting the best bargain for the animal being traded.

It took Prime Minister Andrew Holness to admit in the House of Representatives last Tuesday that what was happening between his Government and the Opposition during the debate on the resolutions to extend the two latest states of emergency (SOE) proclaimed by the governor general, in Clarendon and St Catherine, was simply horse trading.

“Mr Speaker, we have been doing some horse trading across the aisle,” Holness admitted.

Well, it began with Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips who, in responding to the prime ministers' opening remarks, indicated that the Opposition would not agree to a 90-day extension of the SOEs, as requested by the Government, and instead proposed a 21-day extension with at least two conditions:

(1) That the opening hours for small businesses be extended beyond the closing times indicated in the resolutions; and

(2) That, in the interim, progress is made in proposed consultations between the two major political parties on the performance of the SOEs.

Phillips said that the Opposition did not want to disrupt what is happening in the areas under the emergency measures but was insisting that the dialogue improve in the interim, with the Government sharings information and details on the emergencies.

Holness responded that the Government had already studied the issue of the opening hours for businesses under the emergencies and would shortly gazette new closing times.

“If we were confident that the Opposition is supporting the 90-day (extension) then this is something that we could agree to: But 21 days! 21 days!” Holness reacted, signalling that the 21-day extension that the leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, was offering instead of the 90-day extension the Government wanted was not enough.

He accepted that the Government was in a space in which it could not extend the two SOEs beyond the 14 days which the Governor general had proclaimed on September 5, without the support of the Opposition.

The Government needs a two-thirds majority of votes to achieve the 42-seat majority, but only has 34 of of those seats.

As the dialogue continued, Holness pointed out that the Government had already committed to extending the opening hours in the emergency areas and would discuss it with the chief of defence Staff and the commissioner of Police on Wednesday, and have it gazetted immediately after.

He said the Opposition should take into consideration that the SOEs have had a positive effect on crime, without question, and have been bringing the murder rate down.

He said the security forces were able to do this by reducing the space in which the criminals operate and that, for example, gangs in Westmoreland and St Catherine were already being dismantled, and the same would be done in Clarendon. However, he pointed out that those in south St Andrew were more entrenched and, with overseas support, would be more difficult to dislodge.

“I am appealing to the House, because the state of public emergency is a tool of crime fighting in which the Opposition has a role to play in its implementation. We are proposing that we need 90 days,” Holness urged the Opposition.

“The truth is that, whenever we have implemented the state of public emergency, within the first 14 days, strategically, we have to gain control of the space, and gaining control of the space requires that we limit the closing time of the businesses,” he informed the House.

“As the state of emergency progresses we improve the times, and that has been the case with St James when we moved closing times from an average of 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm –12 midnight. We did that again in St Catherine North and in the tri-parish states of emergency, and we are doing it now,” he explained.

Continuing, Holness insisted that a 21-day extension “was as good as saying that the measure is now at an end”.

Phillips said the Opposition was prepared to consider a further concession on the proposed time, but needed information on the issues it had raised such as: the number of gangs that have been dismantled, and the progress towards consultations with stakeholders.

“What we are seeking is a whole change of attitude and tone. We are seeking meaningful dialogue and a shared, collaborative approach. Without that we are being disrespected, and I am not prepared to accept that,” the Opposition leader stated.

Holness, obviously willing to concede, said that his main concern was that the House did not send the wrong signal to the criminals that the parliamentarians were divided.

They eventually agreed a one-month extension of the operations to October 19.

Holness is expected to be off the island next week on several engagements.


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