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NIDS Bill passed after Opposition walkout

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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IN a dramatic turn of events last evening, the Government passed the much-debated National Identification and Registration Act (NIDS Bill), approximately one hour after the Opposition walked out in protest against its refusal to withdraw the Bill.

The Opposition had walked out of the meeting of the House of Representatives after the Speaker refused to put a motion sought by its leader, Dr Peter Phillips, to have the Government withdraw the Bill and send it to a joint select committee of Parliament for further review.

Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles Sr ordered a 20-minute break to discuss the issues, after disallowing a motion from Dr Phillips.

Opposition MPs walked out immediately after the ruling and went to their conference room, where they staged a press conference, while Government MPs departed to huddle in their meeting room, leaving no opportunity for cross-party discussions.

At the press briefing inside the Opposition's conference room at Gordon House, Opposition spokesmen insisted that there was no need for further deliberations with the Government and insisted that the Bill be withdrawn.

After the briefing, Opposition MPs had a short meeting then left the building, while Government MPs remained closed in their room going over the Senate's amendments.

More than an hour had passed since the break when the Government Members returned to the chamber and decided to go ahead with their debate on the Bill.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who was the only speaker at this stage, explained why the Government went ahead with the vote, noting that he had initially requested the speaker to allow more time for the Opposition to review the 168 amendments made in the Senate.
“I want it to be clear to the media, to the public, that I came to the House and asked the speaker to allow time for the Bill to be taken at a later date,” Holness explained.
He said that it was clear to him that his side was confident that it had followed the Standing Orders (rules) of the House, as well as good practice.
“We came here to ask that [debate on] the Bill be put off, so that members could have time. The Opposition insisted that the Bill be taken now…It puzzled me as to why they would be insisting on taking the Bill now. You rightfully, Mr Speaker, asked for time and during that time outside we went through the amendments [from the Senate].
“We looked at the amendments. They could have used the time to look at the amendments as well. What I will now do is, having the clerk read through the amendments that have been brought here, and having gone through them, and the members here have found them consistent and satisfactory…that we do what the Opposition has asked, and that we seek concurrence on these amendments, now,” he said.
The speaker granted leave to continue with the process, and the Prime Minister, eventually, moved for approval of the amendments, after discussing clauses 20 and 41 of the Bill, which, he said, had given most concern to the public.

— Balford Henry

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