In 2011, then backbencher the Reverend Ronald Thwaites, Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, raised a long-standing problem, the sectoral debates in Parliament. The sectoral debate, which follows the budget debate, is a platform for every single Member of Parliament to address the House. Portfolio Ministers use the opportunity, naturally, to speak about their portfolios, opposition spokesman and women also tend to address portfolio issues, and backbenchers tend to concentrate on their constituencies.
It sounds good, but its implementation has been anything but. It is a never-ending exercise, often dragging on for months. It is boring, the speeches, like most parliamentary speeches, are far too long, and opposition spokespersons and portfolio Ministers are for some strange reason, not scheduled together to enable a useful, comprehensive discussion of national issues. In addition, the schedule is always being changed as Members are constantly asking for their presentations to be rescheduled.
At the time, then Prime Minister Andrew Holness agreed with Rev. Thwaites that a new structure was needed and noted that the public was uninterested in the exercise.
Rev. Thwaites had made suggestions for the revamping of the debate, including a more focused approach, looking at national themes such as economic growth and social issues.
I had hoped the discussion would have been the start of meaningful reform, leading to a more vibrant, useful exercise. Alas, we have seen nothing of that.
As always, my question to the parliamentarians is “Who are you talking to?’ or better yet “Who do you think is listening?’
Surely a more vigorous debate would spark wider public discussion, throw up more ideas for national development, get more press and more favourable attention for bright, thinking Parliamentarians. It should be win-win for us the public, and the parliamentarians. Apparently, none of that matters. So here we are again, in the middle of yet another sectoral debate stretching on and on and on. Yawn.