In the nick of time

In the nick of time

Senate approves election delay after lengthy political exchange

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

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PARLIAMENT completed its role in delaying the municipal councils' general election in time to meet the November 29 deadline for the extension, by passing the amending Bill last Friday.

The temporary amending Bill — the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act (ROPA), 2020 — was safely piloted through the House of Representatives, at short notice last week Tuesday by Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie.

Newly appointed Opposition Leader Mark Golding supported the extension when it was debated in the House of Representatives on November 24, despite expressing some concern about the 15-month wait.

But, even though the Bill was up against the clock again on Friday, legislators made the deadline despite lengthy presentations, mainly from Opposition Senator Lambert Brown, who claimed that the delay was primarily due to the Government's lack of funds to “buy out the election”.

However, Government Senator Charles Sinclair insisted that it was the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) who would fear another election at this time, after its huge loss to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on September 3.

Leader of Government Business Senator Kamina Johnson Smith was very accommodating and unusually brief in her presentation, insisting on the need to complete the process, so that the necessary recommendations could be sent off to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen for his assent.

She reminded the Senate that the amendment would temporarily modify the ROPA legislation, which governs the holding of elections in Jamaica, to allow the local government election to be pushed back to a date no later than February 27, 2022, if necessary.

Senator Johnson Smith noted that the Bill was passed in the House of Representatives without any amendments, due to the threat of increased risk of exposure of the Jamaican electorate to COVID-19 as well as current financial constraints, coupled with the increased demand for resources to respond to not only health and safety needs but also rehabilitation needs following the recent flood rains.

However, Senator Brown suggested that the reasons given for the delays were false, except for the one about the need to find funding.

“It says under the memorandum that the postponement is necessary due to current constraints, coupled with increased demand for resources to respond to recent flood rains that affected Jamaica. That constraint is not going to go away. The 11 per cent decline in the last quarter, the 18 per cent before that, the fallout in those resources will come back to us soon,” he argued.

“You can't call it now, for you don't have no money. You can't call it now for the 49 of you downstairs say, 'Don't call it'. So, don't come with your bluffing. You may have bluffed the elector, but don't bluff me,” Brown insisted.

He also accused the Government of proposing a fixed election date after 1989 when the PNP — led by former Prime Minister PJ Patterson — had served four consecutive terms in office, but failed to enshrine it in the constitution when it came to power.

He said that this was evidence that the call was not made in support of upholding democracy, but to stop Patterson from winning another term in office.

“The reality is that the country has sent us a message to do things consistently, to do things properly. But regrettably, I can't trust this Government on the electoral thing,” he added.

Senator Thomas Tavares-Finson, who is both president of the Senate and a member of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), however, informed the Senate that the suggestion for fixed election dates had nothing to do with any act of “bad mind” against Patterson.

“As a member of the ECJ, let me tell you that without hesitation or resignation,” Tavares-Finson said.

But Brown insisted that the “Jamaican people” should be brought into those behind-the-doors conversations between the commissioners.

“As to when I consult with them, it is a matter that you may not be aware of, and I will leave it that. But, suffice it to say [about] your opinion, that it wasn't bad mind. I accept your right to have an opinion, so do I, but I believe that my opinion is more fact-based than yours,” Brown responded.

“Unfortunately, the statement that I made was not an opinion. It was a statement of fact and the records of the ECJ are there to be consulted,” the Senate president said.

Another Opposition Senator Damion Crawford accused the Government of putting the benefit of winning the September 3 General Election above the health and welfare of the nation.

He said that there is a difference between the game of politics and the business of government, which the Government should observe.

He said also that there are times when, because the business of government is so intertwined with the game of politics, people don't separate and understand that there can be times when the game of politics is negative in its outcome to the business of government, and there are other times when the business of government can be beneficial to the game of politics.

“So, for example, if the Government performs, they will use that performance in their promotion for victory and seek political advantage from performing well. [They claim that] one good term of government performance deserves another term in a political campaign, and so the people were asked to vote for you, again,” Crawford noted.

“It is a Government led by a political party and sometimes the actions of the political party become a priority over the Government, and leads to a negative outcome, though it may lead to a political advantage,” he claimed.

Government Senator Sapphire Longmore urged Senator Crawford to withdraw the statement, which she said was a point of speculation.

“There is absolutely no evidence of a link between the global pandemic and the spike that is increasing globally, and the occurrence of an election here in Jamaica that has been recognised as a free and safe election. And so I ask you kindly to remove that statement. It is very irresponsible,” Senator Longmore said.

However, Senator Crawford insisted that he had been consistent in rejecting the idea of holding the election in September.

“I was in the wilderness as one of the very few politicians who constantly said no election should be called. I said no election should be called because the activities of an election were likely to contribute to everything opposite to that which had been proposed by the minister of health,” he said.

Senator Sinclair said that the Bill should not be controversial, because the comments made by the Opposition in the debate in the House of Representatives were fully in support of the delay.

“Whether you look at it from one side or from the persons who are rising with the other side on the issue of the delay in local government elections, they can find unity on their side. So, whether it is one or the rising, there is unity [on this issue],” Sinclair said.

He noted that the Opposition had delayed local government election on several occasions when they were the Government, especially between 1990 and 1998.

“In fact, if you were elected as a councillor in 1990, you would have become pensionable [councillor] on the basis of that one election,” Senator Charles said.

“I just want to say to Senator Brown, fear not, because the minister of local government and rural development has made his pronouncement [in the House of Representatives] in respect to not calling a snap election. So you will be made aware,” he added.

Sinclair said that the reasons given by the Government for the postponement were valid, “because elections are not cheap”.

“The impact of the rains we have had, the flooding, property damage, as well as loss of lives, running into billions of dollars…and now we are hearing from the NWA [National Works Agency] of infrastructure damage running into trillions of dollars. I don't think anyone, not even the most callous among us, could fault this Administration for giving primary focus to the restoration of lives and the livelihood of people,” he said.

The Bill was approved by the Senate and sent off to King's House where it will be given the governor general's assent then published in the Government's Gazette.

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