Right Steps & Poui Trees


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350 Words Or Less: Have You Read The #NIDS Bill As Passed?

The National Identification and Registration Bill with the Senate Amendments was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (November 21, 2017), in what turned out to be a controversial process. Whatever you think should happen next, the Bill is now posted on Parliament’s website, if you would like to read it. It has not yet been signed by the Governor General.

The National Identification and Registration Bill

NIDS Bill pic 2

 

 

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National Identification & Registration (#NIDS) Bill: Senate’s 168 Amendments

Last week Monday, November 13, 2017, the Senate passed the National Identification & Registration Bill with 168 amendments. This was the second day on which the Senate had held a marathon session regarding this piece of legislation, the first session being the previous Friday. It is intended that the Bill, commonly referred to as the NIDS Bill, will go back to the Lower House for passage quickly, possibly this week.

At the time of publishing this blog post, the version of the NIDS Bill that is on Parliament’s website is the version that was passed in the Lower House on September 19, 2017, including the 100 plus amendments made there. The version of the Bill with the Senate amendments has not yet been posted, though I hope it will be before the Bill returns to the Lower House.

If you wish to know what the current status of the Bill is, here is a list of the Senate amendments obtained from Parliament: NIDS amendments blog picAmendments moved to the National Identification and Registration Act 2017 by the Senate which can be read in conjunction withNIDS Bill from Lower House blog pic the version of the NIDS Bill currently on Parliament’s website.

UPDATE – November 21, 2017: During an online Twitter/Facebook Town Hall about the NIDS yesterday, Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith, the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, who piloted the Bill through the Senate, confirmed that the Bill would be tabled in the Lower House today with the intention of passing it today. She said that once the Bill was tabled, the updated version would be posted on Parliament’s website. What this effectively means is that the public will not have an opportunity to review the Bill with the Senate amendments before it is passed into law.

The timing for passage of the Bill was also confirmed in a tweet from PM Holness’ account. (Note that although the time on the tweet here says 1:28 PM, it actually was about 4:30 PM when the tweet was sent.)PM Holness NIDS tweet 21-11-17

 


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Note-Taking in the Visitors’ Gallery in Parliament: 2002…Yes! 2017…No?

Last week Friday (November 10, 2017) I went to Gordon House to observe the continuation of the Senate’s deliberations on the National Identification & Registration (NIDS) Bill.

Gordon HouseWhen I reached the entrance to the Parliament building, a police woman was conducting a search of women’s handbags. I placed my handbag on the table and then was told, as others were before and after me, that note-taking wasn’t allowed in the Visitors’ Gallery and that I would have to leave my papers downstairs if I wanted to go up to the Gallery. The large envelope of papers I was carrying included not only my notebook, but also my copy of the Bill being debated, the Amendments List tabled in the Senate the Friday before and other documents about amendments that we hoped would be made.

I was very annoyed and expressed my annoyance loudly. In exchanges with the police personnel and with the Marshal, I indicated that the rule against note-taking had been challenged years ago and had been changed to allow people in the Gallery to take notes. I was informed that it had been revised last year, that note-taking was now banned and could only take place with the permission of the President of the Senate. Another member of the public and I decided to remain downstairs while the Marshal went to see if we would be allowed in with our papers.

While we waited, we saw Senator K.D. Knight entering and approached him and informed him of what we had been told. He said he would check to see what was happening.

Not long afterwards, the Marshal returned and indicated that we could go up to the Gallery, which we did, taking our papers and notebooks with us. A number of colleagues who entered after I did relayed similar accounts of being told they couldn’t take notes and one had had to leave his papers downstairs.

Later on, prior to starting his presentation on the NIDS Bill, Senator Knight raised the matter of people being told they couldn’t take notes in the Gallery. The President of the Senate, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, responded saying that he wasn’t clear what the origin of this no note-taking rule was, that it apparently required his permission for notes to be taken and that he was giving his carte blanche permission in that regard. His decision was a much appreciated one.

The reasons for my frustration and annoyance were twofold. Firstly, a rule against note-taking in the Gallery makes no sense. It is hard to see any logical reason for it. Members of the media are allowed to take notes. The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) broadcasts the proceedings live, including streaming on the internet. What is the danger that is being protected against?

The other reason for my frustration is that in 2002 – fifteen years ago – Jamaicans for Justice (of which I was and still am a member), Transparency International (JA) and the Farquharson Institute wrote to Parliament asking for a meeting to discuss the no note-taking convention, which we felt should be repealed. We wrote to the Clerk of the House on March 28, 2002 and received a reply on June 13, 2002, indicating that in the interim a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee of the House had discussed the issue, had decided that the convention should be abolished and that a motion to this effect had been put to the House on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 and had been agreed to.

The Minutes of the Meeting of the Standing Orders Committee Held on May 28, 2002 at 2:20 P.M. ( Standing Orders Committee Minutes May 28 2002 ) say the following:Standing Order Committee minutes 28 May 2002

The Report of the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Representatives on Its Deliberations on Proposed Amendment to Standing Order No.65 and the Matter of Note Taking in Parliament ( Standing Orders Committee Report June 4 2002 ) says the following:Standing Orders Committee report June 4 2002

The Hansard Report for the Sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 ( Hansard – House of Representatives June 11 2002 pp 626-643) contains the following record of the motion put by Dr Peter Phillips, then Leader of Government Business:

Hansard June 11 2002 aHansard June 11 2002 bHansard June 11 2002c

In 2002, the Government and Opposition members were in agreement that members of the public should be allowed to take notes in the Gallery. By their response to Senator Tavares-Finson’s decision, Government and Opposition Senators seemed to agree last Friday.

A number of us intend to follow up to find out why the no-note taking convention is once again in effect and to ask that it be removed…again. Hopefully, the problem will be quickly corrected.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)

 


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Voluntary? Not Anymore: National Identification & Registration Bill Enrolment Amendment

 

One of the things that has been said repeatedly in discussions and presentations about Jamaica’s pending National Identification System is that it wasn’t going to be a mandatory system. Yes, people would need a National Identification Card (NIC) or National Identification Number (NIN) for all transactions with the Government and its agencies. Yes, many private entities might require a NIC or NIN from someone in order to do business with them. You might end up not being able to function in the society if you did not have a NIC or a NIN, but there was no offence or penalty in the Bill for not having a NIC or a NIN.

But that has changed.

On September 19, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the National Identification and Registration Bill, with approximately 100 amendments. Two of those amendments were to Clause 20 in PART IV of the Bill, which deals with Enrolment. Clause 20 deals with “Enrolment of registrable individuals” and two new subclauses were added to the Bill:

NIDS Bill Clause 20 amendments

The penalty referred to in the Fourth Schedule is as follows:NIDS Bill 4th Schedule Clause 20(9) offence

So if someone doesn’t apply to enrol in the National Identification System, without reasonable cause, they will have committed an offence in law and will be liable to a fine of up to $100,000.

So much for persuasion via public education regarding the benefits of the system or coercion via exclusion from being able to interact with public or private entities. It is now made explicit. Enrolment will be mandatory.

A number of significant changes addressing some of the specific problematic aspects of this new piece of legislation have been made to the Bill since it was first tabled in Parliament on March 21 this year. Many problematic issues remain. The Bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

NIDS Bill title picThe current version of the National Identification and Registration Bill

 

 


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$75 Million Allocated To Retrofit Police Lock-Ups For Children: So What Happened?

Parliament - gordon-house-2In 2013, the Jamaican Parliament was told that $75 million was to be spent retrofitting five police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas for the detention of children. In 2017, a Parliamentary Committee has now been told that the retrofitting of four lock-ups was completed in 2015 and that the areas were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). The Committee was also told, however, that the retrofitting was so poorly done that the “child friendly” lock-ups have never been used and that it will take an additional $32 million for recommended repairs to be done, $17 million of which has already been allocated in the 2017 – 18 budget.

At its last two meetings, Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee has discussed this much-touted government programme for retrofitting police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas. The information shared in those meetings raises serious questions about the implementation of the programme and the money spent on what some, myself included, thought to be an ill-conceived idea when it was originally proposed.

On September 19, 2017, the Committee  had a meeting, which Opposition MP Peter Bunting chaired, and discussed a Ministry of National Security (MNS) report titled Status of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Island Wide – June 30 2017. Committee members expressed dissatisfaction with the report and raised concerns about some of its contents. They decided to ask MNS representatives to attend the Committee’s next meeting to provide further information and to answer questions that had arisen.

Fitz Jackson MP

MP Fitz Jackson

 

On Tuesday, October 10, 2017, the Committee met again, this time with Opposition MP Fitz Jackson as Chair; having recently been appointed Opposition Shadow Minister of National Security, he has taken over from MP Bunting as Committee Chairman. The delegation from the MNS and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JFC) that appeared before the Committee was led by Mrs Mitsy Beaumont-Daley, Acting Chief Technical Director at the MNS, and Commissioner of Police George Quallo. The MNS submitted an updated report titled Report – Physical Condition of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Islandwide – October 5 2017 to the Committee. This was accompanied by a report of inspections made of the four relevant police lock-ups on September 26 & 27, 2017 and a collection of photographs showing the physical condition of the facilities.

Background to Decision to Retrofit Lock-Ups

The October 5, 2017 MNS report gives the background to the decision to retrofit these four police lock-ups:

“An Inter-Ministerial Working Group was established in September 2012 by the then Ministry of Youth and Culture. The primary purpose of the Working Group was to examine the issues and challenges that affect children within the care of the State.

A significant focus of the Committee was to provide a solution for the separation of juveniles who come in conflict with the law from adults in police lock-ups. In this regard a programme was developed to establish self-contained child friendly holding units to accommodate such children. Thirteen (13) units were to be established in strategic locations across the fourteen parishes with Kingston and St. Andrew operating as one facility. The Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) was identified as the source of funding and the facilities were constructed by the National Works Agency (NWA).

The plan was to retrofit/construct the units in phases. Four (4) were to be completed in the first phase namely Bridgeport in St. Catherine, Barrett Town in St. James, Moneague in St. Ann and Nain in St. Elizabeth. By 2015 all facilities were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force, except for Nain.” p. 1

Indeed, then Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna reported on the retrofitting programme in her Sectoral Debate presentation in 2013:Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 28Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 29

And again in 2014:

Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p12Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p13

The October 5, 2017 MNS report points out that the programme completely failed to deliver what had been promised:

“Following the handing over of the facilities, a walk through was conducted which revealed that the buildings were not as safe and secure as they appeared. Several defects were observed that were described as “potential” safety hazards as well as unfinished works.

Discussions were held with the contractors (NWA and JEEP) who gave assurance that the matters would be addressed in short order. However, as at September 27, 2017, only one station (Bridgeport) toilet facility was reconfigured, the others have not been addressed and the newly constructed structures were left to deteriorate.”

One has to ask, as did some of the members of the Committee, what level of consultation took place regarding the design of these facilities? What monitoring took place while the work was being done? And what accountability has there been regarding the poor quality of the completed work, at and since the point of handover?

Identified Problems at Retrofitted Lock-Ups

The MNS October 2017 report outlines the problems that they identified with the rerofitted facilities:MNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws aMNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws b

Looking at just one of the issues of concern, items (iii) and (iv) deal with the basic and important issue of proper ventilation. In the MNS June 30, 2017 report, three of the four facilities are identified as having a problem with ventilation and some very stark language is used to describe the problem.

Barrett Town: “9. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation.”

Moneague: “5. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation if the windy climate at Moneague should cease.”

Nain: “The facility is not suitable for habitation due to very poor ventilation.”

The September 2017 MNS inspection report uses less dramatic language in describing the ventilation problem and the associated recommendations, but the problem remains as a concern:MNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report aMNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report b

The provided photographs give a visual indication of the situation being described:MNS police lock ups photos - Oct 2017 report The MNS October 2017report speaks of the facilities being “constructed from a prototype plan”. What did this plan require regarding ventilation? Who was consulted in designing this plan? What standards were used as a guideline for developing this plan?

And if it is said that the prototype plan was adequate, is it that the work done varied from the plan? If so, wasn’t this noticed while the work was being done? And again, why has there been no accountability for the poor work done? Why is it that the facilities remained unused and deteriorating, after so much money was spent?

What Next?

At the end of the Committee meeting on October 10, MP Jackson said that the scope of the investigation into the use of public funds for this retrofitting went beyond the mandate of the Internal and External Affairs Committee. He said that the Committee would complete its report to Parliament on the matter and that further investigation would need to be done by the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) and/or the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

This is a matter that demands explanation and accountability, at the stages of planning, implementation and sign off. With all that is needed for children who come into conflict with the law, with the often heard excuse of lack of resources, we owe it to them to demand that the Parliament does its part in achieving full accountability.

In this post, I have focussed on the expenditure and the facilities, but there remains the substantive problem of children being held in police lock-ups. The situation has changed somewhat in the past few years, but there is still a need for the government to present a more careful analysis of data to identify the causes of the problem and whether this is the best solution.

If $75 million has already been spent and an additional $32 million is to be spent, is the end result after spending $107 million really going to be the best solution for the children involved?

The Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament

Many of us may not be familiar with the mandate of Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee and may wonder why this matter came before it. The Standing Orders of Parliament gives a description of the Committee’s role, which makes this clearer:Internal and External Committee

(From Standing Orders of the House of Representatives of Jamaica 1964 )

The current members of this Committee are:

Members of Parliament: Mr Fitz Jackson (Chair), Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, Mr Dave Brown, Mr Leslie Campbell, Mr Heroy Clarke, Mr Horace Dalley, Mr Colin Fagan, Mr Floyd Green, Mr Alando Terrelong and Mr Franklin Witter.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)


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350 Words or Less: Ladies, You Are Armed & Dangerous!

There is obviously something very threatening about women baring arms that seems to result in institutions of state formulating dress codes that prohibit women wearing sleeveless garments in their hallowed halls! This came up in the USA last week. It wasn’t a case of sleeveless in Seattle, but rather a case of sleeveless in Washington DC, in the Speaker’s Lobby in the US House of Representatives.

A journalist was told her sleeveless dress on a hot Washington day was not appropriate and her attempt to create “sleeves” with pages from her notebook didn’t work either. Eventually a California Congresswoman declared a Sleeveless Friday and she and a number of women turned up “inappropriately” dressed.tweet - US women's right to bare arms - 14-7-17Subsequently, Speaker Paul Ryan said that there would be a move to modernise the dress code, having initially reminded women of the need to be “appropriately” dressed.

We have our sleeveless prohibition here too, not only in Gordon House, but in a number of Ministries and other government agencies.  I wrote about it in a blog post last year, sparked by an instance in which a woman fashioned “sleeves” out of two scandal bags and was then allowed inside. You Have Got To Be Kidding! (Those Sleeveless Rules Again…)

Those bare arms are inimical to good order and the efficient conduct of government business and simply cannot be allowed. (We will not talk today about the dangers of bare heads, knees and toes.) Senator Longmore wore a sleeveless dress in the Senate recently, but kept it covered with a shawl throughout the debate. What chaos might otherwise have ensued in the Chamber!

And then there is this photo…. Maybe the prohibition hasn’t always existed, or maybe some people are exempt from the regular rules.

Jamaica Parliament - Princess Margaret 1962

First sitting of Parliament of independent Jamaica, August 1962

You think if I wore a sleeveless frock, but also wore long gloves and a tiara, they’d let me into the Gallery at Parliament?

 

 

 

 

 

 


Making Haste: Joint Select Committee & Special Zones of Operations Act

This afternoon (June 13, 2017), the Joint Select Committee of Parliament considering The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 had its first sitting. It was a short, preliminary meeting primarily intended to set out how the Committee will proceed.

Delroy Chuck 2Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck is chairing the Committee and reminded that the Bill had been tabled in the House by Prime Minister Holness during his Budget Debate presentation on March 21, 2017. He noted that this Bill is one of the measures intended to deal with the high level of violent crime in the country and made reference to the quadruple murder that had taken place in the parish of Hanover this morning. He indicated that the Prime Minister had asked that the Committee complete its deliberations by the end of June. This means that the Committee has about two weeks in which to conduct its process and report back to Parliament; by the first week in July, at the latest, Minister Chuck said.

The Committee has asked that advertisements be placed in the media this week, inviting individuals and organizations to make written submissions on the Bill to Parliament, with a possible deadline for submission by next week Tuesday.  They will also write to a number of specific organizations inviting them to make submissions; among those mentioned were the Jamaica Bar Association, the Advocates Association, the Public Defender, Jamaicans for Justice, the Norman Manley Law School and the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology. Individuals and organizations which make written submissions may be asked to make presentations in the Chamber, which will need to take place next week or the week after that.

Dates for three meetings of the Committee were set today, though these may change, as sometimes happens:

  • Wednesday, June 21 – 9 a.m.
  • Tuesday, June 27 – 10 a.m.
  • Wednesday, June 28 – 2 p.m.

It is hoped that all contributions can be concluded by the end of these three meetings, after which the Committee will do a clause-by-clause review of the Bill before finalising their report to Parliament.

Minster Chuck said that Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte will be attending the meetings of the Committee and the next meeting will begin with the Attorney General giving an outline of the Bill. He also said that the National Security Advisor and representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force will be invited to attend the meetings.

I am not sure of the full membership of the Joint Select Committee, but present today were MPs Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, Evon Redman and Floyd Green and Senator Pearnel Charles, Jr. Apologies were tendered for MP Peter Bunting and Senators Mark Golding and Ransford Braham. (Marlene Malahoo Forte was present in her capacity as Attorney General, from Minister Chuck’s comments.)

The Committee is attempting to complete its work in a very short period, with very limited notice to the public for submissions, which may jeopardize the “closer scrutiny of the Parliament in a joint select committee” contemplated by the Prime Minister when he tabled the Bill.

Previous blog post in which I raised questions & concerns about the Bill: Yes, You Do Get to Ask Questions About the Zones of Special Operations Act