St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The time frame between the first reading of bills in parliament and their second and third readings has been criticized by Opposition Leader Denzil Douglas.
Making reference in the House Tuesday (May 23) to the Advanced Passenger Information Bill and the Immigration Amendment Bill which were debated in the National Assembly, Dr Doulgas said it was not acceptable that there was an eight month period before the debate materialized.
“Firstly Mr. Speaker the bill is coming to parliament for its second and third reading eight months after its first reading last year, eight months. Yet we all recognize the enormous importance of what will transpire as a result of the bill being passed and ascended to and thus be made law into the laws of St Kitts and Nevis. Therefore one is forced to question whether the agenda of the government is a serious agenda with regard to providing legislative support to important and critical policies not only of a national nature but policies and programmes and actions of an international or global nature.”
The opposition leader accused the government side of stifling debate in the parliament by having lengthy ministers’ statements which take up a significant part of parliamentary sessions, leaving little time for debating of incoming legislation.
“And while Mr. Speaker, you have these critical bills that are sitting down that have important impacts on our national, regional and global development and also relationship with the rest of this community. We come here in previous sittings and sit for hours speaking about statement by ministers on all manner of things which have already been brought to the attention of the people of St Kitts and Nevis in so many propaganda releases from the government. Yet to do the peoples work serious business, to impacts us nationally regionally and internationally, its taking eight months, nine months, to bring them back to parliament in order that they can augment the laws of St Kitts and Nevis and put us into a better standing.”
Prime Minister Harris has defended the government’s approach on bills, a process he says facilitates consultation on the proposed legislation.
“And so when he gets up to speak about eight months being long, what has been the pattern in this House? We bring our bills for first reading, we said we will put them in the public domain for however long it takes without doing violence to the agenda of the parliament. Circulate it, let the bar get their input, let any other interested group get their input, or individual and then we come back to the House. Well that is how it is rolling out. We had it out there, nobody can come and say we foisted it on the people, we hurried it through the parliament.”
The prime minister also countered that the opposition was not in a position to chastise the government because the Labour administration’s record of timely legislative debate was appalling.
Dr Harris made specific reference to the Advanced Passenger Information Bill that was passed several years ago by Trinidad and Tobago, while the then Denzil Douglas administration hadn’t moved it forward.
“By July 7 2008, Trinidad had passed their APIS legislation, St Kitts took no action and you come here today to ask us about APIS, about eight months? When since 2006 this has been in vogue, since July 7 2008 Trinidad had passed legislation which they could have adopted if there was a concern. So 2006, 2007 they did nothing, 2008 they did nothing, 2009 nothing was done, 2010 nothing was done, 2011 nothing was done, 2012 nothing was done, 2013 nothing was done, 2014 nothing was done Mr. Speaker.”
On the matter of ministers’ statements, Prime Minister Harris described it as a requirement of law imposed upon the parliamentary procedures that provision should be made for ministers of government to account.
The time that ministers’ statements take in the House has also been criticized by Operation Rescue’s Dwyer Astaphan in the recent past.
Former government minister and former parliamentarian Astaphan felt that too much time was being taken up with those statements, compared to what obtains in Britain’s House of Commons.
According to the UK parliament, government ministers may make oral statements to parliament which usually address major incidents, government policies or actions.
These take place after oral questions and any granted urgent questions.
After making a statement the minister responds to questions on its topic from MPs.
An hour is allocated for this.