MP missing in action
The Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine North Western, the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Hugh Graham, is on thin ice after missing more than 60 per cent of the sittings of the House of Representatives since the start of this year.
Fellow Opposition MP Dr Peter Phillips, the former Opposition leader who represents St Andrew East Central, has missed approximately 80 per cent of the sittings of the House so far this year, but in his case the Parliament is aware that he is dealing with a medical issue which provides a valid excuse.
Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) representative, the MP for Clarendon Central, Lester “Mike” Henry, has missed 57 per cent of the sittings from the start of the year, but he also has medical reasons for his absences.
There is no such medical issue on the record at Gordon House for Graham, who could face sanctions.
According to official attendance records from Parliament seen by the Jamaica Observer, Graham, the first-term MP who has indicated that he will not be seeking re-election, was absent from 39 of the 61 sittings (54 per cent) between January 10 and November 8.
Graham submitted apologies for his absence on just two occasions and was missing from six consecutive sittings, which could be grounds for him to be booted from Parliament before the scheduled end of his term in 2025.
On the motion for adjournment during the sitting of the House last Wednesday, Speaker Juliet Holness reiterated her stance on imposing the rules surrounding the attendance of MPs.
“There is, in fact, one member who has been absent for 80 per cent of the sittings of the House, approximately 80 per cent with and without excuse, and having been written to outside of the required time for attendance,” Holness said without naming the MP or the period she was referencing.
“If you have missed six consecutive sittings within a period of 21 days the Standing Orders require that you must give the Speaker a valid reason for your absence within 15 days. However, in the Speaker exercising leniency, a member who is absent more than 70 per cent of the time without giving any excuse to the Speaker makes it a challenge for the Speaker to be lenient,” said Holness as she declared that this was not a member from the Government side of the benches.
“And that is why I am ensuring that I am extremely lenient; however, this stands now as [a] warning. Anyone who runs afoul of the Standing Orders in respect of attendance — whether it be from the Opposition or Government side — will be held firmly liable in keeping with the Standing Orders, and there will be no leniency accorded to that member,” added Holness.
That was the second time in recent weeks that the recently elected Speaker warned MPs about the absence from sittings of the House.
At the start of the sitting on November 8, Holness noted: “There are some individuals who, for whatever reason, are absent from the House for an extended time. Please be advised that we will be checking the records so that the individual or individuals…having been absent from the Parliament over and above what is in keeping with our Standing Orders will appreciate, you will be read out of the Parliament,” she said at the time.
The Observer‘s check of the attendance record of the House showed that between January and February Graham was absent for six of the 10 sittings. It was a similar story for April and May, where he missed 11 of the 23 sittings while submitting apologies for only two of his absences.
Graham was absent for all four sittings in April and missed seven of the nine sittings in May, though not consecutively.
In May, he showed up for the first sitting on the 2nd, then was absent for the next two before showing up for the fourth. He was absent for the rest of the month.
The businessman-turned-MP was then missing for seven of the 10 sittings between June and July and missed both sittings of the House in September.
Graham was also absent for all seven sittings of the House in October with no apologies. He was missing for the first three sittings of the House in November up to the 8th, which is the last attendance record provided to the Observer.
Phillips missed 49 of the 61 sittings, while Henry missed 35.
The JLP’s Karl Samuda was absent 18 times with five apologies while his party colleague Audley Shaw missed 17 sittings, twice because he was on official business and twice because of illness.
Prime minister and MP for St Andrew West Central Andrew Holness missed 26 sittings, with five apologies; while Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding was absent for 10 sittings with four apologies.
MPs for St Catherine South Eastern Robert Miller and St Andrew North East Delroy Chuck had perfect attendance records, while Manchester Southern MP Robert Chin was absent from only one sitting, and Westmoreland Eastern Daniel Lawrence missed three. All four sit on the Government benches in the House.
Former speaker of the House, and former MP for Trelawny Southern Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert had an almost perfect attendance record, missing only five sittings, all with apologies until she resigned on September 21, 2023, while Kingston Central MP Donovan Williams, who missed only four of the 61 sittings, has a 94 per cent attendance record.
Parliament’s Standing Orders state that any member who is prevented from attending a meeting of the House should notify the Speaker in writing as early as possible of his/her inability to attend.
It further states that if any member is absent from any one session of the House for more than six consecutive sittings, without the written leave of the Speaker, and such absences occur during a period not exceeding 21 days, that member vacates his/her seat in the House under Section 41 of the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council, 1962.