Thursday 27 February, 2020

Portmore boundary war looms; Opposition warns of political instability

 Dr Peter Phillips

Dr Peter Phillips

There is a looming showdown between the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) over the approach to be taken in arriving at the final municipal and divisional boundaries in Portmore, St Catherine.

The final boundary lines could shift the balance of power in favour of one party.

In a statement on Thursday, Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, charged that the Andrew Holness-led Government “is deliberately circumventing the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) and is departing from established agreements in its approach to change the boundaries…”

“Continuing with this approach threatens the basic political stability of the nation,” Phillips warned.

The Opposition Leader and PNP President, noted that a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament convened to consider proposed changes to the boundaries of the Portmore Municipality and divisions, met on Thursday to commence deliberations. Phillips said Opposition members insisted that any changes must be referred to the ECJ as has been the convention.

“This move by the Holness-led Government undermines and circumvents the role of the ECJ.

“It also breaches established conventions and political understandings between both the JLP and PNP since 1979 in the setting up of the Electoral Advisory Commission and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica,” Phillips argued.

He said the Opposition is not prepared to accept this breach of solemn assurances given by the prime minister at the Vale Royal Talks held in April 2018 when it was agreed that any changes to the boundaries would be treated by the usual approach and be settled by the Electoral Commission.

Among other things, the committee is reviewing the 2016 Local Government Amendment Act, it is looking to establish the procedures to change the boundaries of municipalities and the revocation of the 2015 Municipalities Portmore Order.

However, the Member of Parliament for South St Catherine, the PNP’s Fitz Jackson, took objection, pointing out that what the committee was pursuing was in breach of agreements reached at the 2018 Vale Royal meeting.

Jackson reminded that “The Opposition placed on the agenda of those meetings, its objection to any legislative action that would circumvent the supremacy given to the ECJ (Electoral  Commission of Jamaica) for dealing with any constituency, or any political boundaries generally.”

Jackson insisted that the Government agreed to this position, although he said there was no response to a letter that was written to the Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives on the matter.

The Opposition MP told the committee that he regarded it then as a “solemn undertaking” by the Government not to proceed with changes to political boundaries through any parliamentary committee.

As a result, he told the committee on Thursday that it would be “difficult for the Opposition to participate in such deliberations.”

When he spoke, Government member, Everald Warmington, dismissed Jackson’s position as “rubbish!”

Warmington argued that “The separation of St Catherine and Portmore has nothing to do with the Electoral Commission."

Warmington pointed out that the ECJ deals with boundaries for parish council divisions and boundaries for parliament.

He said, “The separation of St Catherine from Portmore …the provision for that was written in the 2003 Municipal Act, so I don’t know where this argument come from.”

For his part, committee chairman, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said the parliament takes precedence over the Vale Royal discussions and any decision relating to the outcome of this committee will have to be taken by the parliament…”

Not satisfied that the Government would abide by the Vale Royal commitment, Jackson and his colleague Member of Parliament for South East St Catherine, Colin Fagan walked out of the meeting.

The committee continued its deliberations in their absence.

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