KINGSTON – The House of Representatives ended in uproar Tuesday night after what could have been its last meeting before the November 28 local government elections.
But the House will meet again Wednesday afternoon at its usual time with Prime Minister Andrew Holness suggesting that he hopes that the opposition will be present, too.
The confrontation was triggered by the government’s decision to delay debate until Wednesday on a Bill which seeks to amend the Local Government Act prior to the November 28 local government elections.
The Bill, among other things, provides that councillors elected to sit on the Portmore Municipal Corporation (Council) would not be allowed to sit in the St Catherine Parish Council as well.
The government was planning to have it debated in the House yesterday, which was expected to be its last sitting prior to the November 28 vote. However, House Leader Derrick Smith said that the government decided to delay the debate until Wednesday to allow the opposition more time to study the Bill.
But Leader of opposition Business Phillip Paulwell insisted that Tuesday meeting should have been the last prior to the election based on a schedule which had been produced by Smith.
Smith admitted that he had discussed a proposal for meetings in light of the recently announced local government election date, but it was not final.
Paulwell said that the decision to debate the Bill today was a “serious matter”, and accused the government of “tampering with the democracy of our country”. He added that the opposition would not allow.
This angered both Smith and Prime Minister Holness, who expressed their views on Paulwell’s remarks.
Smith said the fact that the Standing Orders allow the House to sit between Tuesday and Thursday, meant that today’s meeting would not be in breach of the rules.
“So, when I heard the outcry about democracy, I just dismissed it as nonsense,” Smith commented.
“It is the business of the government to decide when the House will meet,” he added.
“He spoke about ‘the opposition will not allow it’. I don’t know what you mean, because what I am telling you is that the House is adjourning until tomorrow at two o’clock. We have important business to discuss, and I am expecting the Opposition to be in the House,” Smith stated, prior to moving again for the adjournment until today.
But Paulwell rose again and appealed to the Speaker against today’s sitting. He said that he was also appealing to the prime minister to resolve the issue.
House Speaker Pearnel Charles was about to adjourn the sitting when Holness stood up.
“It is unfortunate to suggest that we are tampering with democracy,” Holness said. “The Bill to which the member refers, is a Bill to actually enhance the democracy of the country.”
He noted that the ideas included in the Bill were previously supported by the opposition, when it was in government.
“It is the perception of the system of municipality that was brought into being by that side. There is no attempt, on our part, to run rough shod over the convention that supports our democracy,” Holness stated.
He said that when the opposition appealed for time, he agreed and the government allowed time for the opposition to discuss the Bill.
He said that the government was not putting any pressure on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica either.
“I want to assure the citizens of Jamaica that there was no attempt, no sinister motive behind this decision,” Holness emphasised.
“It is merely the speed at which government has to work. We will be here tomorrow and we would love to see you here tomorrow,” he told the opposition.
The House was then adjourned Wednesday. (Jamaica Observer)