Tedious but important work
Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson says the Standing Orders Committee, which has been conducting a line-by-line review of the Standing Orders, is expected to wind up its work this year after having made some key amendments to the rules which govern the conduct of business in the Upper House of Parliament.
Tavares-Finson chairs the committee reviewing the Standing Orders which outlines how the Senate should conduct its business. The rules have been in place since Jamaica gained Independence in 1962.
“There have been reviews from time to time but not a line-by-line review, which we are currently embarking upon. It’s a tedious but important process which, at times, requires extensive research and consultations which often take place outside of the time reserved for the actual committee meetings.
“Much of what we are doing is building upon work which was done when former Senator Floyd Morris had chairmanship of the committee,” Tavares-Finson told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.
The Senate president said the committee has been purposeful about amending the decades-old Standing Orders and bringing them in line with how a modern-day Parliament is expected to operate.
According to Tavares-Finson, following recent public concern about the lack of meetings of some parliamentary committees, he’s confident that the committee he leads is among the Parliament’s more active and effective.
“Of course, one of the highlights of the committee’s deliberations came about during the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic when we moved to permit virtual attendance by lawmakers at meetings of the Senate.
“The committee met and swiftly inculcated a modernised provision which was immediately put into the Standing Orders by the Senate as a whole. The amendment allowed us to not only continue our meetings of the committee during the pandemic (which was a scourge that changed the way much of the world does business), but it also allowed senators to attend meetings of the Senate virtually going forward.
“That amendment has posterity and has boosted the operations and productivity of the Senate, even now that we are in the post-pandemic phase,” argued Tavares-Finson.
The said the work of the Standing Orders Committee, and the key amendment referenced, have led to the Jamaican Parliament being consulted by other territories which are also members of the Commonwealth.
“We were one of the first parliaments in the Commonwealth to input such provisions into our Senate Standing Orders. Senior leaders of the Parliament, including the clerk and I, have been consulted by various parliaments across the Commonwealth about implementing similar provisions into the rules and regulations which govern the operations of their parliament.
“In fact, the Lower House of our Parliament is yet to implement such a provision to permit virtual attendance by members. It’s a provision which has worked well in the Senate,” added Tavares-Finson commented.
The amendment to the Standing Orders, which remains in effect, allows members who are ill or unable to attend sittings physically because they are out of the jurisdiction on official business, to participate in Senate sittings virtually.
However, if a senator is attending a meeting of the Upper House virtually, he or she does not contribute to a quorum and cannot vote.
Tavares-Finson said 128 meetings of the Standing Orders Committee were held from April 2019 to the end of 2023 with the last deliberation being held on December 15 last year.
In a breakdown he said while the committee did not meet in 2018, a total of 25 meetings were held in 2019, 32 in 2020, 26 in 2021, 25 in 2022, and 20 last year.
He pointed to minutes of the meetings which show that during these deliberations, the committee reviewed the Interpretation section of the Standing Orders along with Standing Orders 1 â€“ 57, as well as the Form of Prayer section of the Standing Orders.
The minutes show that the committee deliberated on issues including a review of the dress code for members of the Senate and the treatment of petitions, motions and, in particular, private members’ motions.
The committee also conducted an examination of rules governing Parliamentary Privilege, and the suspension of members from the Senate.
The Senate president also underscored that senators were not among a raft of public officials who were granted wage increases under the recent Public Sector Salary Reclassification exercise and continue to be paid a stipend of approximately $53,000 for any parliamentary committee sitting.
This stipend also applies to meetings of the Standing Orders Committee, which consists of both Government and Opposition senators.