Monday 30 March, 2020

Gov't members crowd out Lambert Brown in Senate debate re SEZ Bill

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown, who railed against the “super, super Ministry" of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown, who railed against the “super, super Ministry" of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

An amendment to the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Bill to remove responsibility for the zone from the Minister with responsibility for Industry to the Prime Minister’s Office, triggered heated exchanges in the Senate on Friday.

Opposition Senator, Lambert Brown, warned his Government colleagues that concentrating too much power in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) could lead to corruption.

Since the February 2016 General Election win, the super Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation was created and located in the OPM. Besides Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the ministry has three ministers without portfolio operating out of that office. They are Daryl Vaz, Dr Horace Chang and Derrick Smith. There is also a Minister of State in Everald Warmington.

What was expected to be a brief debate on a truncated Bill of just two clauses, turned into a more than hour-long slug fest, as Brown was determined to make his point despite numerous interruptions from Government senators.  He started by reminding of the importance of recognising the separation of powers involving the legislature, the judiciary and the executive arms of governance.

“Sadly, Mr President, in recent times what we are seeing is the attempt to (towards) what some call the one ‘donism’… where, in this case, the prime minister has pulled onto himself a number of key institutions and ministries and portfolios. This Bill is but one more pull… and to pull against what a previous legislature had said,” Brown posited.

He argued that the Government was treading on dangerous grounds in its decision to take away portfolio responsibility from the Industry Minister, Karl Samuda, and put it under what he described as the “super, super Ministry“ of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

Senator Brown questioned whether the prime minister could realistically take on any additional responsibility, since he is also the head of the National Security Council.

“With crime so rampant, should I vote to move (responsibility for) the Special Economic Zones over to the prime minister,” Brown asked. “He (the prime minister) has shown as head of the National Security Council, that he can’t keep the murder rate under 1,600 (for the year). We are racing to 1,500 now and a month to go (in the year),” Brown outlined.

He also said 15 women were reportedly murdered across the country over the last two weeks.

Senator Brown argued that unless the Government had lost confidence in Samuda, responsibility for SEZ should remain with him. He said: “This concentration in the hands of the prime minister is frightening because they say power is corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he said philosophically.

The first point of order when Brown was interrupted was raised by Senator Matthew Samuda. At that point, Senator Brown referenced the contractor general’s report into the controversial debushing programme that followed the 2016 General Elections, which described the exercise as “corruption enabling”. Brown also noted that the contractor general had described as “mendacious”, the action of some of the persons who were involved in the programme.

Rising to his feet, Senator Samuda said:  “I think that the speaker has gone way off track”.

Samuda added that, “I think the speaker is forgetting that it was the former Cabinet that was referred to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) for criminal prosecution and misleading the Senate.”

In his contribution, Government Senator Don Wehby remarked that: “I have had some good times in the Senate, but what I witnessed here today I’m not happy with.” His comments came after Brown was told on several occasions to stick to the merits of the debate.

I was “raised well by my mother and grandmother,” said Senator Pearnel Charles Jnr, in a clear swipe at Senator Brown.

Several  points of order were raised by Government Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, who, while pointing to young children and their teachers, who were sitting in the visitors’ galley on one occasion, remarked that he was  “raised well by my mother and grandmother,” in a clear swipe at Brown.

Acting Senate President, Kavan Gayle, warned Brown on several occasions to stick to the Standing Orders. So many were the interruptions that Brown asked whether he would be given additional time to finish his presentation.

The Bill was eventually passed without amendment. Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Kamina Johnson Smith, commented that bureaucracy had been reduced, and consumer confidence has grown, since the “new approach in respect to the consolidation and cohesion that is being brought to growth and development under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.”



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