News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean


January 2012

That messy Custos matter

The following is a link to the Custos Rotulorun Act 2011, signed by the Governot General on August 29, 2011.  I am trying to ascretain the date on which the2011  Act was gazetted.

Section 6 (a) stipulates that a Custos must be a Justice of the Peace.,%202011.pdf

You will see that the new Act repairs the previous ommission in the Ministry Paper Numbered 2, Appendix I, approved by Parliament on the 5th day of July, 1959 and gazetted on the 5th day of February, 1963 and which made no mention of such a requirement.

A Lay Magistrate pointed out to me, however, that by convention, Custodes have always been Justices of the Peace. Indeed, it would seem to be a serious anomaly that the Custos could be held to be the ” Chief Magistrate of the parish” and not be a J.P.

According to Kings House, ” it is his (or her) duty to prepare a roster of the Justices of the Peace within the parish so that there are sufficient JPs at each meeting of the Petty Sessions Court and in the various districts to carry out the work.”

Section 4 (1) states that a Custos shall be appointed by the Governor General acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.

According to section 4 (2), a Custos shall, before assuming office, take and subscribe before the Governor General

(a) the Oath of Allegiance referred to in section 7 of the Oaths Act, and

(b) the Official Oath referred to in section 8 of the Oaths Act.

So much for the formalities. Kings House is now trying to resolve the messy and unfortunate situation involving Sally Porteous of Manchester after Lay Magistrates walked out of a scheduked meeting and announced their refusal to work with her.  The installation ceremon had toi be postponed for this to happen.

I make no comment on Ms. Porteous’s appointment and whether it should go ahead. One thing is clear, however. It should never have come to this. We are far too prone to dismiss people’s concerns as partisan or unimportant.  Former politicians have been appointed Custodes and Governors General before. The fact that concerns were being raised about Ms. Porteous’s appointment should have alerted Kings House months before that trouble was brewing, and that speedy intervention was needed to prevent what we now see, an untidy, messy and unfortunate situation which is embarassing to all concerned. The ill will was allowed to build, fueled by disregard of publicly expressed concerns. Why is it that we can teach our children to “attack the problem, not the person”  rules of the peace process, how to understand conflict and how to communicate effectively  and yet not practice it ourselves. I’ve got it – let’s send our leaders to do a course with PALS  (Peace & Love in Schools)! They clearly need a refresher course.


Let’s Demand More From This Shadow Cabinet!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has promised a strong opposition. Let’s also hope, more broadly,  for a strong Shadow Cabinet. What usually happens is that you have several stars in a Shadow Cabinet, usually the ” sexy” portfolios – finance, education, national security, transport & works for example. Many of the other spokespersons are rarely, if ever,  heard from.

Let’s try to remember how often we have heard, on a regular basis, considered statements or positions from  opposition spokespersons holding portfolios like environment, foreign affairs, gender affairs, and disabilities. Anything that serves to bring to light an issue smacking of corruption or government waste is how political careers are made. But important as this is, we should expect, and get, more from our Shadow Ministers.

There are many important issues that may not attract banner headlines. Nonetheless, if you aspire to government, it should be your task to articulate policy positions on all matters within your portfolio, sexy or not. If the complaint is that Parliamentary or news coverage is limited, fine, establish a blog, or facebook page and publish your positions there. I’ll be the first to sign up.

It’s Not Church!

Church HDR
Church HDR (Photo credit: I_am_Allan [been gone for a few weeks])
In a recent interview with Karl Samuda and Omar Davies about the behaviour in Parliament, they both indicated that  it was generally accepted that the conduct over the past few years had crossed the line. At the same time, Mr. Samuda said that they didn’t want Parliament to sound like church, a sentiment Dr. Davies agreed with.  I have to join them in that.  (Let’s not get caught up in the church analogy, they meant that Gordon House should continue to be a lively and dynamic forum.)

The backlash against the vulgar outbursts in Parliament and crassness on the political platforms has resulted in some expecting the Parliamentarians to sit as docile and demure as school children under the watchful eye of a stern teacher. I got a call yesterday, for example, from someone complaining that government MPs were “heckling” the Opposition Leader during his speech. It seems to me if you are addressing the Parliament and suggest that your time on the Opposition benches will be brief, expecting  the government MPs to sit on their hands and be silent is asking a bit much. In addition, I don’t want to see us lose the colour and vitality that are evident wherever Jamaicans gather. So I was a bit taken aback, for example,  at the negative reaction to Bobby Montague’s references to programmes called Audi and Prado or whatever, given that he was on the party platform and clearly jokingly making fun of the PNP’s JEEP.

English: 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Mountain.
English: 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Mountain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We need to strike a balance….wit, hilarious one-liners, ( RIP Danny Buch.), cut and thrust of debate  and sharp, even  brilliant ripostes on the one hand, but civility on the other. We can do it.

Senators Should Get Paid

Clipart of bills and coins
Clipart of bills and coins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s time to think about paying our Senators. We cannot continue to cater to the howls of protest from members of the public who resent and begrudge the expenditure of every dollar spent on our legislature.  If you followed those protests to their logical conclusion, MPs would be paid minimum wage.

In the same way that it is time to expand and update the seat of Parliament, it is time to consider whether we might not be able to get a better range of representation and more attention to the job if we decided to pay people to serve as Senators. And are we content to have our Upper House include political  appointees as a reward for good and faithful service to the good old party?

Let me be the first to say that this is certainly not true for the majority of our Senators over the years, but we have seen those unhappy appointments where the appointees spent the term making little, if any contribution, to legislative development and national discourse. This is the Upper House of Parliament, a critical review chamber for  Bills which are to be passed into law. There is no room for bench warmers. We will watch this new crop closely, but in the meantime,  let us start the discussion!

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