Fri | Aug 23, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Earning our pay?

Published:Monday | July 15, 2019 | 12:07 AM

The House leader has adopted the practice of hearing the near-soliloquies of the Sectoral Debate at the beginning of each session and before motions are tabled or questions asked and answered.

The rationale has been to shorten the wait (and discomfort) of the visitors who are invited by ministers and shadow spokespersons to admire their oratory. Also, taken earlier, these speeches have a greater likelihood of featuring in the day’s news cycle rather than being buried in the slipstream of tomorrow’s scandals.

It is actually a good idea to do this informal reforming of the over-rigid Order Paper. Most presentations in this year’s Sectoral Debate have shown some thought, been generally respectful of time limits, and have been reasonably gracious and temperate to avoid the usual banal cursing and endless self-congratulation.

Still, the question persists as to what impact this drawn-out exercise has on public opinion or public policy. As we are finding out with the bush-clearing contracts, the used-car fiasco, Petroscam, the Ministry of Education-CMU sweetheart deals, and many others past and present, this Government does what it pleases unless there is vigorous and sustained negative public reaction.

So the substantial Sectoral offerings (not a debate at all really) have been second-guessed by the far more exciting and newsworthy proceedings of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee(PAAC).

Do we still all agree that it is in the best interest of the country to enjoin representatives of the people to pass good laws and to determine, by hearty and well-mannered contestation, the best policies to benefit the majority? One has to ask because those functions are no longer ( if they were ever) the norm of business in Gordon House.

One of Mr Seaga’s impressive habits was to bring books to cite in support of his speeches. Research and thoughtfulness are essential to good government, after all. There are about a third of the present membership who have had little or nothing to say for months, if not years, in this Parliament. They are ministers of silence, crosstalk and banging. Except to make up numbers, what constructive function do they serve, and are their constituents’ interests completely satisfied by them following their respective party leader?

The House will indulge itself with probably an eight-week vacation, starting before the end of this month. Outstanding questions, not to mention private member’s motions, will likely be given short shrift as the scheduled speeches are completed and the security legislation interposed.

The Public Accounts Committee and the PAAC have done sustained work this year despite the effort of government members to squash the probes of a scandal-prone administration. The Human Resources Committee will complete hearings on the policy and law relating to abortion by the recess. The other committees, especially those relating to reforming the proceedings of Parliament, have met once, if at all.

Have we earned our pay and done justice to the expectations and needs of our constituents? The standing orders need radical reform, as does the constitutional relationship between executive and legislature.

ON AGRICULTURE

Revived agriculture ranks with transformed education as two of the great hopes for a prosperous Jamaica. That is why the presentation by Minister J.C. Hutchinson last Tuesday was so important. Less than half the members even came or stayed to hear this trained and practising farmer. I am attracted to his aspirational growth target of 25 per cent per annum for the sector and his candour in identifying several shortfalls in present government praxis.

Hutchinson was forthright in pointing to the need for accessible capital, water and marketing opportunities, as well as more extension services. The question arising is whether his Government is paying him any serious mind.

 

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.