WITH only seven or 25 per cent of the 28 proposed pieces of legislation enacted during the current legislative year, the Government has announced several measures that will be undertaken to improve the efficiency of the legislative process.
Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte, in a statement in Parliament on Tuesday, said the legislation, which are contained in the 2022/23 legislation programme as highlighted in the governor general's throne speech delivered in February of this year, has lagged behind due to a number of shortcomings that will be addressed.
Among the issues identified are the need for greater prioritisation of legislation guided by the throne speech and the Government's priority legislation programme and the need for ministers and their permanent secretaries to be more active in ensuring that the legislative matters return to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel (OPC) in a timely manner.
She said under the new arrangement, which has been approved by Cabinet, her ministry now requires priority legislation to include subsidiary legislation, that is, the regulations and also for the priority set out to deal with the proposal to increase outdated fines and penalties.
"I think the criticality of including subsidiary legislation was brought home with the Road Traffic Act and the Road Traffic Regulations and everyone who has been monitoring that lamented the inordinately long time it took for the regulations to be promulgated after the Road Traffic Act was passed into law," she said.
Malahoo Forte said that all ministries have been provided with the pieces of legislation by her ministry which contain fines and penalties which need to be reviewed and some ministries have already began to prepare Cabinet submissions for the approval of drafting instructions to effect the changes.
"A projectised approach has been introduced which now require all ministries to work within settled time frames. An agile hand-holding approach has been adopted by my ministry to ensure that support to the other ministries is responsive and effective," she said.
Malahoo Forte said that each piece of legislation being amended or developed, if new, is being treated as a project and managed in accordance with the established project management principles. The process involves the development of the project's scope, schedule, risk and risk responses, she said.
The legal and constitutional affairs minister further noted that legislative policy development has been identified as one of the major weaknesses in the Government, noting that if the policy is not potently expressed, it is likely to affect the quality of the related Cabinet submission and the drafting instructions to the Chief Parliamentary Council.
"With a view to closing this gap, my ministry is seeking to introduce a training programme to build the capacity of officers in this area. It is projected that this training course will be implemented in the first quarter of the 2023/24 financial year," she said.
She further said Cabinet also granted approval for the establishment of a legislative team in each ministry to include the relevant policy officers; legal officers; senior officers at the level of chief technical director; principal director or senior director responsible for working closely with the relevant policy; and legal officers to provide oversight of each ministry's legislation programme as part of the work to strengthen inter-ministerial collaboration to advance the Government's legislative agenda.
She added that all ministries have established their legislative team and her ministry has started to work with them, noting that the inaugural meeting of the Government-wide legislative teams was convened on September 9, 2022, to enable the ministry, among other things, to meet the respective officers and provide details of the new arrangements.
Since then, the ministry has convened meetings with the permanent secretaries and the legislative team of each ministry to review the progress of priority legislation encompassed in the 2022/23 legislation programme and the throne speech to discuss strategies to accelerate the pace of reform for outstanding legislation and also ahead. Discussions on the legislative priorities for 2023-2024 has also commenced.
"Moving forward, a realistic legislative programme must be drafted each year having regard to the capacity of some ministries, the heavy demand placed on my ministry, particularly regarding request for comments by the legal reform department and the actual drafting of bills by the OPC," Malahoo Forte said.
"My ministry pledges its commitment to working closely with all ministries to accelerate the pace of reform," she said
"Already, we have begun to do periodic evaluation ahead of the end of the current legislative year to determine progress, weaknesses, and lessons learnt. Data gathered will facilitate adjustments prior to the commencement of the next legislative year. Following timely periodic updates to the Cabinet, my ministry will also provide similar periodic updates to this honourable House and the people of Jamaica on the progress of performance of the legislative review process," she added.
The bills which have been passed into law this year are the Bank of Jamaica (Amendment) Act; the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Cockpit Country (Protected Area) Order; the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty Notices) Regulations; Firearms (Prohibition Restriction and Regulations) Act; the Dangerous Drugs (Cannabis Import and Export Transit and Transshipment) Regulations; the Road Traffic Regulations; and the Transport Authority (Amendment) Act.
Malahoo Forte noted that the OPC has drafted 19 instruments in relation to the 21 remaining legislative matters listed in the throne speech.
She said the OPC also prepared the draft legislation in respect of a variety of other matters not mentioned in the throne speech.
"Over the period, April 1, 2022 to November 30, 2022, the OPC completed approximately 233 matters referred to it for drafting or for the provisions of comments or advice," she said.