Letter to Observer on Conventions of Parliament

The Editor

The Daily Observer of Friday September 9, 2010 on Page 18 reported me as saying that whatever is recommended by the Electoral Commission is ‘rubber stamped’ by Parliament. The caption under a picture of me also used the phrase ‘rubber stamped.’ Not only have I never used the phrase ‘rubber stamp’ in reference to the Convention spoken of but the notion of Parliament being a ‘rubber stamp’ is such an unfortunate misrepresentation, gross misconstruction and colossal misunderstanding, that I cannot but set the record straight.

The House of Representatives is the House of the elected representatives of the sovereign people of Jamaica. The House of Representatives can never be the rubber stamp of any organisation, group or body in Jamaica. The House of Representatives is the supreme policy making and legislative body in Jamaica.

The Convention that I referred to in the exchange between Prime Minister the Honourable Bruce Golding, Mr. Robert Pickersgill, Chairman of the People’s National Party and myself at the Opening Ceremony of the OAS sponsored Regional Meeting on Political Party and Campaign Financing is a bipartisan agreement that has been observed since 1979 by the representatives of the two parties that have constituted the Parliament.

The essential elements of this bipartisan Convention are:

  1. Both governing and opposition parties are equally represented on the Electoral Commission which is presided over by Independent Commissioners agreed on by the leaders of both parties.
  2. All matters that come before the Commission are debated and referred to the leadership of both parties prior to any final decisions being made.
  3. Recommendations from the Commission to the Parliament that are unanimously agreed by all members of the Commission are accepted and approved by the Parliament without change.

The essence of this bipartisan Convention is that the party that forms the Government will not use its majority in Parliament to impose is preferences, policies and positions on electoral matters.

This is not a law. It cannot be imposed on any Parliament. Rather, it is a voluntary agreement that the representatives that have comprised the Parliament since 1979 have voluntarily observed and followed.

The practical application of this Convention is that when the House debates a Report unanimously agreed by the Electoral Commission, the obligation of the Leader of Government Business and the Leader of Opposition Business is to ensure that at least the majority of members of the House support and approve the Report.

Every time the Electoral Commission submits a Report unanimously agreed by the Commission the obligation of the Chairman and Members of the Commission is to recite the bipartisan Convention. It is for the Members of Parliament to agree to continue to abide by this Convention and to act accordingly.

Civilisations are built as much on conventions as they are built on laws and regulations. Indeed, conventions civilise and constrain power. The bipartisan Convention that the representatives of both political parties in Parliament have accepted and abided by since 1979 is the cornerstone on which the progress that the country has made on electoral matters has been built.

It is my sincere hope that reporters and news editors will refrain from using the phrase ‘rubber stamp’ in relation to Parliament, and also refrain from attributing its use to anyone who did not factually use that phrase.

Sincerely

Errol Miller

Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica

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