Phillips urges new-style parliamentary democracy in Jamaica

Former Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips says the version of the Westminster parliamentary democracy which Jamaica inherited is outdated, and ways must now be devised to ramp up and enhance the role of the legislature to, among other things, ensure accountability of the Executive.

The St Andrew East Central Member of Parliament (MP) called attention to the gaps in the capacity of Parliament in his contribution to the state of the constituency debate in the House of Representatives yesterday. He recommended that a committee be set up to examine the role of Parliament and MPs. The committee, he added, should enable the institution to fulfil its oversight mandate and ensure that the Cabinet is accountable to the country.

“It could consider also the appropriate technical and other support for Parliament and parliamentarians, issues of the structuring of the committees, staffing, and budgetary support. It could receive submissions from interested persons and experts in the field from our universities and it could look at previous studies such as those done by Carl Stone in the 1989,” the veteran parliamentarian suggested.

Dr Phillips argued that there needs to be a shift from the preoccupation with the welfare aspect of an MP’s duties and securing re-election to enhancing the role of Parliament in order to drive effective policy.

He said, in order for this to happen, urgent attention must be given to providing technical and administrative support for Parliament and parliamentarians to improve capacity to tackle the issues that come before the legislature.

“If we are going to transform the experience of the last 58 years, then what we need to do is to enhance the role of Parliament in ensuring supervision of policy and accountability in the House because we are responsible, collectively, for ensuring that good policies get made,” he argued.

“Along with the increase in this welfare preoccupation that overcame the House, there was another trend in relation to parliamentary reform, and that was to ensure that the MPs got an increased role as the guardian of the budget to try to provide some Parliamentary protection against the debt ever building up again,” he outlined, noting also the establishment of the standing sessional committees, while pointing out that there is a lack of technical capacity by the Parliament to fully explore the issues.

“The truth of the matter is that Parliament is not really able to fulfil the role. In the various sessional committees the Parliamentarian is kind of left on their own without the kind of support that is necessary, and in the absence of this support it is moot whether Parliament can uplift itself to realise the fullness of the vision of parliamentary democracy, which I think is to be found largely in the committee system of the Parliament, or whether we are always going to succumb to the kind of urge for the expression of partisan self-interest, and thus remain mired on the rocks of underperformance,” Dr Phillips asserted.

He stressed that MPs need more support staff, access to technical analysis, and administrative staff to maximise their efforts.

“We see, oftentimes, a Bill comes, the minister speaks [but] 99 per cent of the Parliament have no interest, no knowledge of what they speak  we then end up without having effective policy oversight,” he said.Dr Phillips pointed out that the best of Parliament is displayed in the work of the sessional committees, where the greater good takes precedence over partisan positions.

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