Monday 28 September, 2020

Coronavirus: Exemptions for elderly lawmakers

Andrew Holness

Andrew Holness

Exemptions have been made to ensure that the Houses of Parliament and Cabinet will be able to function normally during the period of restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Monday that, as of Wednesday, individuals over the age of 75 must stay home and public sector workers over 65 must work from home.

Several members of both the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Parliamentary Opposition, People’s National Party (PNP), are over the age of restrictions that will be enforced from Wednesday.

Holness, however, said that Cabinet, after a lengthy discussion, took the decision that it is a constitutional duty for the House of Parliament to continue and that the political parties function as best as possible during the period.

He said, “the restrictions, if they were to be widely enforced, would mean that there would be some members of Parliament that would not be able to attend.

“We (Cabinet) also looked at it from the perspective of the constitutional duty of the elected representative to be in parliament and (whether we) could really restrict a member of parliament from going to parliament.

“We said, given the phase (of the coronavirus) that we are about to enter in, we have to take great precautions. So the Member of Parliament has a duty to protect themselves from people who may have the virus or don’t unduly expose themselves to the virus and if they themselves have it, they shouldn’t expose members.

“Now that’s on a system that we are hoping that will be maintained, but the truth is that the leadership of the country must be intact and must be present, functional and operational. We could not interfere with the democratic process,” he said.

According to Holness, when each of the political parties meet with members, they will have to find a method to ensure that there is social distancing in the parliament and enough votes are present for the constitution to function effectively.

Holness also said that standing orders have also been made for Parliamentary Committees to meet remotely.

In terms of the Cabinet, he said a decision was taken to ensure that there is always a quorum with those who are not essential to the discussion on a particular matter, participating remotely and still having the input recorded.

He said this would be possible through the digital Cabinet, which was recently installed at Jamaica House and was used during last week’s daily Cabinet meetings and again on Monday as the country grapples with the coronavirus.

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