JAMAICA-Opposition walks out of House in protest
KINGSTON –– Opposition parliamentarians walked out of the House of Representatives yesterday in protest against the government’s handling of the controversial Outameni property purchase and the refusal of the prime minister to answer questions tabled on the issue.
The walkout brought an early end to the meeting of the legislature, setting back some issues, including the closing of the debate on reparations.
The government sought to recover the agenda by going ahead with the opening of the debate on three bills seeking to replace the Judicial Committee of the United Kingdom Privy Council with the regional Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). But after a large group of students who were visiting to watch the proceedings left the gallery with their teachers, the writing was on the wall.
Leader of the House Phillip Paulwell called it quits after Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller opened the debate on three bills, and House Speaker Michael Peart adjourned the sitting.
In the meantime, the opposition invited the Press to a briefing in its conference room at Gordon House, at which its leader Andrew Holness warned that the protest would not end there. He said that he would widen it to add areas of collaboration between government and opposition, including the Partnership for Jamaica, launched in July 2013.
The partnership is a programme designed to ensure the country’s stabilization, growth with equity and sustainable development initially over the period 2013-2016. It gives special focus to fiscal consolidation, rule of law, ease of doing business, employment creation, and energy diversification and conservation.
Yesterday, Holness told the Press briefing that Simpson Miller’s appointment of four new members to keep the National Housing Trust board afloat, without giving new policy directions or dismissing the chairman, was a “slap in the face”. He said that her refusal to answer questions he had tabled a week earlier in the House had made things worse.
“It is a slap in the face of persons who want to see good governance in our country. The opposition accepts that it will be our job to hold the government to account,” he told journalists.
“We have started by taking parliamentary action, but it is not reserved to parliamentary action alone . . . . We are prepared to go to the highest levels of action to get the government to comply,” he added.
Asked what that meant, the opposition leader responded: “We will always resort to the people.”
Holness said that in all other jurisdictions of the Westminster system of governance, the prime minister tries to reassure the public by providing answers to questions tabled in Parliament as quickly as possible. However, he said that Simpson Miller was refusing to respect the will of the people by refusing to answer his questions.
Leader of Opposition Business in the House Derrick Smith said that he had received an assurance from Paulwell that the questions would have been answered this week.