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Jaevion Nelson | Parliamentarians need adequate resources

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Jaevion Nelson | Parliamentarians need adequate resources

We don’t seem to realise that we desperately need to budget for the Parliament’s efficiency and productivity. It’s foolhardy to ignore such a critical need each year during the Budget debates. If it is that we truly want to become the place of choice to live, work, raise families, do business and retire by 2030, we have to look at the factors stymieing our progress in this regard.

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The less than adequate resources allocated to parliamentarians each year is, in my humble opinion, a big part of the problem in our country. That our parliamentarians do not have adequate resources to hire and offer competitive remuneration to staff needed to run their offices and support them in serving their constituents, as well as contribute constructively to debates in the House, is part of the quandary we complain about every so often as citizens, journalists, advocates, educators, and political commentators.

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Therefore, if we want better governance – transparency and accountability; if we want more laws to be amended and passed in the House each year; and if we want better representation at the constituency, then we have to do more than simply pay them the little they get each month and adequately resource their offices.

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As said in this newspaper back on January 26, 2017, “The performance of the Jamaican Parliament has been abysmal for far too long and it doesn’t seem this will improve anytime soon. The constant banter and heckling remain, and the Parliament continues to laden us with its lethargy and unproductiveness.”

The truth is, though, that outside of banter, heckling and providing handouts, many parliamentarians are unable to do much more and it isn’t necessarily their fault. They simple have not the resources to fulfil their roles and responsibilities as elected and appointed legislators. Too many of them have to depend on volunteers and cheap labour to do what is expected of them.

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Ultimately, those who are most affected by this omission in our annual Budget are the majority, since the executive typically has the benefit of a fairly resourced ministry.

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I remember while in high school typing up speeches for my uncle-in-law, who was at the time a member of parliament. I was quite happy to do this because I got the opportunity to make recommendations and read his contribution in advance. However, the more I think about how under-resourced parliamentarians are, the more I recognise how this kind of thing shouldn’t have happened. Several years later, many parliamentarians are still forced to depend on family, friends and volunteers to help them with tasks that they should have staff to do for them

UNFAIR TO BACKBENCHERS I complain a lot about the cowardice and lethargy of backbenchers, that they are not bringing private members’ motions to the House for debate, and that they seemingly are not reading bills thoroughly and standing up for their constituents. But the truth is, I am being unfair to them because they cannot be as effective as we want them to be, given the current state of affairs

Their effectiveness should not hinge on them shuffling around money for projects or the willingness of volunteers. Senators don’t even have the luxury of any kind of budget that they could probably play around with like MPs

Every elected parliamentarian needs a minimum of four well-trained and paid staff (not volunteers) to support them to be effective. They need a personal secretary/assistant, office manager with responsibility for finances, a projects officer of sorts to manage constituency affairs, and a staffer who will serve as a sort of legislative liaison at the constituency and national levels. Senators, I suppose, could do with one or two staff

I sincerely hope that the next Budget or even the Supplementary Budget that will be presented later in this financial year will consider the necessity of effectively resourcing parliamentarians to implement their roles and responsibilities, and not simply giving them more to give to the people

Who knows, a backbencher could table a motion to include a financial analysis of what it would cost to effectively run an office so that the Parliament actually discusses this issue soonest

Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to [email protected] and [email protected] or tweet @jaevionn.