Keep politics out

Independent Senator Tony Marshall
Independent Senator Tony Marshall

The Attorney General having the power to approve and revoke the appointment of marriage counsellors is opening Government up to claims of “political bias”. It’s one of the shortcomings of amendments to the Family Law Act, said Independent Senator Tony Marshall.

“Why is it felt that the Attorney General should have the power to approve or revoke an application? One would have thought that it would be better to have such applications approved by the appropriate court, if only to avoid claims of political bias,” Marshall said during his contribution to the debate in the Upper House today.

“I think that the approval of an organisation or a person to be a counsellor, more particularly if Government is providing aid to that organisation or person, that we should try and avoid any taste, tinge or smell of political bias in this.

“And we all know that there could be someone who is reasonably equipped, or some organisation, to be a counsellor, but the application is declined,” he added.

The former bank manager also saw a need for authorities to detail the required qualifications of counsellors, especially since people, represented by organisations or individually, would benefit from financial assistance from the state.

“I can’t imagine how this bill could have been drafted and no statement, no specific qualification cited. What this open itself to is having persons who have been dabbling around counseling coming forward to be counsellors more so because Government is willing to offer financial aid to such persons,” he said.

“And with regard to the financial aid, I thought that it should be mandatory to get audited accounts and if you do not feel able to provide audited accounts then you should not be eligible for financial aid. That is not in the legislation.

“Then if you are to submit financial statements, then there should be a stipulated period…, certain in time for such submission with attendant penalties.

Marshall agreed with Barbados Labour Party spokesman, Senator Wilfred Abrahams, that “the best job had not been done in putting forward these amendments” and he also agreed that it should not be passed by the Senate but returned to the House of Assembly pending improvements.

“I think that … in looking at the amendments as put forward there is obviously need for further examination… I compliment the Government on recognising that this is important in the lifeblood of the nation, but I really cannot see how one could just proceed as is stated here,” he said.

“I don’t think there is any question that the amendments do not provide the total necessities for legislation in the year 2013 and that as such I believe that our best course of action (is) to let this go back to the other place for modifications, adjustments, additions.” This was partly in the context of divorce, something the senator called “perhaps the most debilitating experience after death of a spouse, a parent, or child”.

“If we accept that there is anything true about that, then it tells us that the matter before the Senate is one of tremendous importance and as such we ought to be painstaking in making sure that in seeking to amend this bill we do it with as much diligence as possible to ensure that the bases are all covered,” he said. (SC)

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