Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Parliament on ‘Jamaica time’ - House of Representatives sittings started on schedule just once in 2019-20

Published:Wednesday | February 19, 2020 | 12:38 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Sir Patrick Allen, Jamaica's governor general, delivers the Throne Speech at the ceremonial opening of Parliament on Tuesday, February 11. Later that day, the House of Representatives commenced its sitting more than an hour later than schedule.
Sir Patrick Allen, Jamaica's governor general, delivers the Throne Speech at the ceremonial opening of Parliament on Tuesday, February 11. Later that day, the House of Representatives commenced its sitting more than an hour later than schedule.

Tardiness became a way of life for the Government that directs the legislative agenda in the House of Representatives for the parliamentary year ended 2019-2020. Parliament’s clocks appeared to be running on ‘Jamaica time’ – the facetious reference to traditional lateness.

Of the 28 sittings for the just-ended legislative year, the House of Representatives started the business of the country early only once when Speaker Pearnel Charles Sr entered the chamber at 1:54 p.m. on November 19 last year.

The average starting time for the Lower House was about 2:34 p.m., more than 30 minutes after the designated time of 2 p.m. when the business of the nation is slated to begin.

On May 28, 2019, the Speaker started presiding over the proceedings of the House of Representatives at 3:29 p.m., the latest time recorded for the commencement of a sitting during the parliamentary year that concluded earlier this month.

If the Government were to have started the proceedings of Parliament on time, lawmakers would have had an additional 24 hours – a full day – to conduct the business of the country.

And with an average sitting spanning three to four hours, legislators would have had another six sittings at their disposal to deal with several motions that had not been debated over the legislative period.

There were some 36 private members’ motions on the Order Paper that were not debated during the parliamentary year.

Of the number of private members’ motions, Central Kingston Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites moved 19, or 52 per cent, of the measures.

In one of his motions, Thwaites called for the Parliament to debate: “Be it resolved that King’s House be renamed Paul Bogle House.”

Another motion moved by Thwaites stated: “Be it resolved that the effective transformation of the education system will require intense emphasis on the early childhood sector and that allocations from 2018 onwards must reflect this.”

Thwaites has complained bitterly that his motions were not being given sufficient attention by the government side.

At the first sitting of the 2020-2021 legislative year on February 11, leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives, Dr Morais Guy, raised concern about the lateness of the start of the proceedings. He pointed out that the business of the House started more than an hour late on the first sitting of the 2020-2021 legislative year.

“We would all agree … that we have to take extraordinary efforts to ensure that we start on time with the members coming and the House and the staff being ready to facilitate the start of the House for 2 p.m.,” Guy said.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com