Government of Jamaica Cont’d

The Speaker

The Speaker of the House is formally elected by the members of the House of Representatives from among their number, at the first sitting after each general election or when there is a vacancy.  Although the Speaker is usually a member of the ruling party, a minority party member may be chosen.  The Speaker rarely takes part in debate.  His job is to see that other members keep within the rules of the House, that the rights of the Opposition members are protected, and that every member gets a fair hearing.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House of Representatives is responsible for the direction of business in the House.  It is his job to see that time is provided for debate on various matters in the House.  In doing so, the Leader of the House consults the Opposition and seeks to reach an agreement as to what business will be done in the House each day.

Members of Parliament

Any Commonwealth citizen 21 years of older, who has been domiciled in Jamaica for the 12 months preceding an election, may become a member of the House of Representatives if elected. Among these who may not become members of the legislature are members of the defence force, persons serving a foreign government, judges of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, and persons holding or acting in public offices.

How a Bill Becomes Law

A Bill is an act of Parliament in draft, and no Bill can become law until it is approved by the Houses of Parliament and receives the formal assent of the Governor-General.

Bills may be introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, but no Bill involving finance can be first introduced in the Senate.  “Pubic Bills”, designed to give effect to Government policy, are introduced by Ministers or other officers of the Government.  “Private Members’ Bills are introduced by any other member of the House, whether of the governing party or of the Opposition.

After a Bill has been introduced in the House it must pass through several stages, known as “readings”.

First Reading

At “first reading” no debate on the Bill is allowed.  The “short title” of the Bill is read by the Clerk of the House, the Bill is ordered to be printed and a day is appointed by the member in charge of the Bill for the second reading.

Second Reading

The Bill is debated fully at the “second reading”.  At the end of the debate a vote is taken.

Committee Stage

If the Bill passes its second reading it moves on to the “committee stage”. This committee comprises the whole House unless the House refers the Bill to a “Select Committee”.  At this point, the Bill is considered in very close detail.  Every clause is carefully examined, and amendments to the Bill may then be moved and voted upon.

A Bill may not be rejected during the committee stage, as this power is reserved for the House.

Report Stage

After the committee stage, there is the “report stage”, when the Speaker reports what has happened to the Bill in committee, whether there have been amendments or not.

Third Reading

No amendments of a substantial nature may be made at the “third reading”; a Bill may be accepted or rejected by means of a vote.

When a Bill is first passed by the House of Representatives, it is sent to the Senate, where it goes through the same procedure as one which originated in the “Lower House”.

If the Senate disagrees with any aspect of the Bill and makes an amendment, the Bill is sent back to the House of Representatives for consideration. If the House disagrees with the Senate’s amendment, it informs the Senate, which is then asked to reconsider the Bill.

When agreement is reached and the Bill has been passed through all its stages in both Houses, it requires only the Royal Assent to make it law.  The Royal Assent is given by the Governor-General.

Money Bills

Money Bills, which may be initiated only in the House of Representatives, deal with any aspect of Government’s finance, such as taxation, loans and audit of accounts.

The procedure for money bills differs from that for ordinary Bills.  The revenue and expenditure are settled in the following way.  Government ministers put forward resolutions stating what money will be spent and how.  These estimates are debated by the House in committee.  When the various resolutions have been agreed to, they are incorporated into Bills, which are passed in the usual way.

Prime Minister

When a new Government is elected, or when there is a vacancy for the office of Prime Minister, the Governor-General appoints as Prime Minister the member of the House of Representatives who, in the Governor-General’s judgement, is best able to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House. This is, in practice, the leader of the majority party in the House.

The Prime Minister forms and presides over the Cabinet.  He advises the Queen on the appointment of the Governor-General and he advises the Governor-General on the appointment of the six members of the Privy Council on the dissolution of Parliament and on appointments of the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal and the three services commissions.

In the case of the appointments of the senior members of the judiciary and the services commission, however, the Prime Minister’s advice is given after consultation with the leader of the Opposition.

The Prime Minister also nominates 13 of the 21 members of the Senate.

Cabinet

The Cabinet is the centre of the system of Government.  It initiates Government policies and programme, and is responsible for the general direction and control of Government.

The Cabinet must consist of the Prime Minister and not less that 11 other ministers (no upper limit is specified).  Not more than four ministers must be appointed from the Senate, and they may have portfolio responsibilities. The other Cabinet ministers are appointed from the House of Representatives.

Cabinet ministers may be assisted by ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries.

Each minister conducts the ordinary business of his ministry without referring to any other minister.  However, important matters, especially those which may become the subject of discussion in Parliament, are brought before the Cabinet for discussion and decision.

Attorney General

The Attorney General is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.  He is the principal legal advisor to the Government of Jamaica.  He is not responsible for criminal prosecutions.

Ministries

The business of the Government of Jamaica is conducted by a number of ministries, each headed by a minister, who is selected by the Prime Minister, who is selected from the Houses of Parliament.

The Prime Minister has the overall responsibility and, except where specifically limited by the Constitution, he has the power to make decisions without consultation with any other sector of Parliament, including the Monarchy.

Each minister is allocated a central office, and each ministry is assigned specific departments, statutory boards and agencies.  Ministries may name committees to advise them on specialised aspects of their responsibilities.

In ministries with widespread functions, persons with knowledge and experience in particular subjects may be appointed to assist.  There are two such categories of ministerial assistant: Minister of State and Parliamentary Secretary.

Each ministry is administered by a senior civil servant, called a Permanent Secretary.  Some of his/her authority is delegated to heads of departments, assistant under-secretaries, principal assistant secretaries and chief accountants.  The Permanent Secretary is the accountable officer for the ministry.

Departments

Ministries are divided into departments, which are co-ordinated in order to bring about the effective running of the ministry.

Statutory Bodies

When a ministry is unable to supply local knowledge, the Government usually sets up a statutory body which takes care of these demands.

A statutory is a board set up by statute for a particular purpose. This board operates solely within the laws that created it.

Because of its involvement in the public sector a statutory body must be controlled by Government, which is free to cancel its statutory status at any time.  Although this body is basically autonomous, in some instances the Government does provide funds, in which case a report must be given on how the money is spent.

The personnel of a statutory body is free to sue, and can be sued, in its own name.

THE BUDGET

The purpose of the budget is to decide how much money the Government should spend for services to citizens, and how to collect the money for those services.

A Budget indicates what will be done in a country.  By its various provisions, the Budget shows how much a Government plans to spend on roads, water, housing and other services provided by that government.

The Budget Debate usually begins in May, after months of intensive planning by financial experts.  Such planning needs careful attention, since it decides the welfare of the nation for the next 12 months and might even have important effects for the following years. Budgetary expenditure is usually divided into “recurrent expenditure” and “capital expenditure”. 

The recurrent account contains all the expenses that accrue in the carrying out of services normally rendered by Government.  Some of these expenses include wages and salaries of Government employees, and the upkeep of offices, factories, warehouses and farms.

The recurrent account also contains an estimate of the revenue expected from taxes, such as import duties, income taxes, property taxes, licences, and consumption duties.

The capital account includes expenses connected with the purchase and upkeep of goods such as machinery in factories, school building, offices and roads.  These projects are expensive, but they in turn help in the production of other goods and services.

The capital account, therefore, plays an important part in the economy, for as the stock of capital goods grows, production capacity increases.  The capital account also includes income from Government-owned profit-making enterprises and loans of various kinds.

When preparing the annual Budget the Government is faced with a number of decisions. First, there is the question of overall policy regarding the direction in which the economy must go.  This affects the allocation to the various ministries.  Secondly, there is the allocation between recurrent and capital expenditure.  Thirdly, the matter will be determined by revenue projections.

The Government is always faced with the problem of getting the maximum benefits out of its limited resources.

During the Budget Debate, Ministers report on the work done in government department under their portfolios, and outline plans for the coming financial year.

Opposition members, in turn, comment on the Budget and opens the debate, has the privilege of speaking last, as he closes the Budget Debate.

After the Minister of Finance has presented the Budget and made his opening address, the House of Representatives revolves itself into a committee of the whole House to study the Budget and make recommendations.  When the Debate closes, the House passes an Appropriation Act, which gives the Government the authority to operate the Budget.

After the House of Representatives has passed the Appropriation Act, the Act goes to the Senate for approval.  

THE JUDICIARY

Jamaica’s legal and judicial systems are based in English common law and practice.  The administration of justice is vested in the courts. The courts of Jamaica include the: 

Judicial Council of the Privy Council

This court, which sits in London, England, is the final court of appeal for Jamaica.  It is composed of between five and seven Law Lords, who hear appeals, both criminal and civil, from the Jamaican Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal consists of the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice (who sits at the invitation of the President), and six judges of the Court of Appeal. A person who is dissatisfied with a decision of one of the other courts, except Petty Sessions, can appeal to this court. Petty Sessions appeals are heard by a judge in chambers.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice, a Senior Puisne Judge and 14 Puisne Judges.  The court exercises both criminal and civil jurisdiction, with a single judge sitting with a jury (12 in murder cases and seven in other cases).  Criminal cases come to the Circuit Court through committals by the Resident Magistrates.

In its civil jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is concerned with civil actions arising from negligence, breach of contract, slander, libel, trespass, divorce administration, equity, guardianship of infants and the estate of lunatics. It also has the right to issue prerogative writs and summonses.

Revenue Court

The Revenue Court was established by the Revenue Court Act of 1971.  The Court is a superior court of record with an official seal.  The judge is a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court.  The Court has jurisdiction to hear appeals under the Customs Act, the Excise Duty Act, the Valuation Act, The Income Tax Act, the Land Development Duty Acts, the Transfer Tax Act and the General Consumption Tax Act.

Gun Court

In 1974 the Gun Court was established, with certain divisions being superior courts for records; i.e. the High Court Division (established by an Act in 1976), and the Circuit Court Division.  In these divisions, certain firearm offences, (which attract mandatory life imprisonment sentences), are tried.

Family Court

The Family Court in the Corporate Area deals with the maintenance of children, juvenile delinquency, custody and guardianship of children, adoption and married women’s property rights.

The Family Court also operates in Montego Bay. This court has jurisdiction for the parishes of St. James and Hanover.  Outside of these areas, the Resident Magistrates’ Courts generally deal with the matters covered by the Family Court.

Traffic Court deals with breaches of the Road Traffic Law within in the Corporate Area of Kingston and St. Andrew.  Traffic breaches are also dealt with in the various parishes by the Resident Magistrates’ Courts.

Resident Magistrates’ Courts

There is a Resident Magistrates’ Court for each parish, which deals summarily with less serious matters, both civil and criminal, and which also conducts preliminary inquiries for more serious criminal cases.  The Resident Magistrate is Coroner for the parish to which he is assigned. He also administers the Court of Petty Sessions for the parish.

Petty Sessions

Petty Sessions court deals with minor offences, and is usually presided over by laymen called Justices of the Peace.  While appeals from all other courts lie with the Court of Appeal (or further, with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London), appeals form Petty Sessions lie with a judge in chambers.

Chief Justice

The Chief Justice is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, after he has consulted the Leader of the Opposition. The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and is, by virtue of his office, chairman of the Judicial Services Commission. Hence, he handles administrative matters such as appointments and transfers.

If the competence or conduct of the Chief Justice should lead to the question of his removal, the Prime Minister must first ask the Governor-General to institute an inquiry through a special tribunal. Such a tribunal must then request the Governor-General to refer the matter to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which may recommend the Chief Justice’s removal.

President of the Court of Appeal

The President of the Court of appeal is appointed by the Governor-General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.  In addition to his duties in the Court of Appeal, where he presides whenever he is sitting, the President of the Court of Appeal is a member of the Judicial Services Commission.

CHECKS AND BALANCES

In addition to the separation of functions of the legislature, executive, and judiciary, a number of checks and balances have been established by the Constitution to limit power of the executive.

These include the offices of the Leader of the Opposition, Auditor General and Director of Public Prosecutions and the institution of three services commissions with responsibilities relating to the appointment and disciplinary control of public servants.

Leader of the Opposition

The office of the Leader of the Opposition is established in the Constitution. Jamaica led the Commonwealth of Nations in the enshrinement of this office in the Constitution.

The Leader of the Opposition must be consulted on a number of important matters, such as the appointment of the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal and members of the services commissions.

The Opposition Leader nominates eight of the 21 Senators, and since the votes of two-thirds of all the members of the Senate are required for parliamentary amendment of the most significant constitutional provisions, then at least one senator nominated by the Leader of the Opposition must support any constitutional amendment in order for it to gain parliamentary approval.

The Governor-General appoints as Leader of the Opposition, the member of the House of Representatives who can command the support of a majority of those members who do not support the Government.  This is normally the leader of the minority party in the House.

The Auditor General

The post of Auditor General is established by the Constitution.  The Auditor General is appointed by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Public Services Commission.  His/her job is to audit the accounts of all public offices.  He/she reports directly to the Speaker of the House of Representatives through the Speaker.

The Auditor General may be removed from office only for inability to carry out the job, for misbehaviour, or on his/her own resignation.

Director or Public Prosecutions

The Director of Public Prosecutions has the responsibility to decide when to take over, continue, or discontinue prosecutions started by other persons, and may institute and undertake prosecutions in person or through his officers.

In exercising the functions of the office, the Director of Public Prosecutions is not subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.  He/she cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of a specially constituted judicial tribunal.  His/her salary is safeguarded under the Constitution.

Services Commissions

There are three services commissions which deal with the appointment, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers. Appointments to the commissions are made by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.

Public Service Commission

The Public Service Commission consists of a Chairman and not less than three, nor more than five appointed members.

Judicial Services Commission

The Judicial Services Commission consists of the Chief Justice as Chairman, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chairman of the Public Services Commission and three other appointed members, two of whom are nominated by the General Legal Council, and the third of whom must have been a Supreme or Appellate Court Judge in the Commonwealth of Nations.  None of these persons may actively practise as an attorney-at-law while serving.

Police Service Commission

A separate commission, the Police Service Commission, deals with the police service from and above the rank of inspector. It consists of a chairman and not less than two nor more than four members.

Under the Parliamentary (Integrity of Members) Act passed in 1973, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are required to make annual declarations of their assets to an Independent Integrity Commission.

In November 1978, the act to establish the office of Ombudsman (The Ombudsman Act) was passed, and a Parliamentary Ombudsman appointed.  The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice made by citizens against pubilc servants and public bodies.

In 1999, the Public Defender (Interim) Act was passed (coming into effect on April 16, 2000) and the Ombudsman Act was repealed.  The Public Defender is a Commission of Parliament.  The Public Defender’s principal role is to investigate alleged injustices or constitutional breaches committed by government agencies or officers against citizens.

A utilities Ombudsman was appointed in 1983 to investigate complaints against public owned utility companies, such as the suppliers of electricity and water.  The role and function of the Utilities Ombudsman is now being carried out by the Offices of Utilities Regulation (OUR) which was established following the promulgation of the OUR Act of April 1995.  Under the Act and subsequent Amendment (2002), the OUR has the power to regulate the following utility services:

– Supply and distribution of electricity

– Provision of telecommunication services

– Provision of public passenger transport by road, rail and ferry

– Supply or distribution of water

– Provision of sewerage services

As a result of increasing concerns about politically-motivated violence, a Political Ombudsman was appointed in November 1988.  In July 2002, the Act was amended and the Senate approved the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act which seeks to establish the office of the Political Ombudsman as a Commission of Parliament.

The Political Ombudsman has the power of investigation into any action taken by a political party, its members or supporters, where he is of the opinion that the action constitutes a breach of any agreement, code or arrangement between or among political parties, or likely to prejudice good relations between the supporters of various political parties.

The Bill empowers the Political Ombudsman to appoint a tribunal comprising representatives of political parties to assist in the investigation of complaints.

Contractor General

While the Act establishing the office of Contractor General was passed in 1983, the first Contractor General was not appointed until November 1986.  The main function of the Contractor General is to monitor and investigate, on behalf of Parliament, matters concerning the award of Government contracts.

The Contractor General also monitors the award and implementation of licences and permits. These licences are given to operators of gas (petrol) stations, stone quarries, and other establishments. He is also responsible for ensuring that licences are used in accordance with the terms and conditions under which they are granted.

The Laws of Jamaica exist under the Constitution of 1962. Except for the entrenched, the Constitution may be altered by a majority of all members of each of the two Houses of Parliament.  The Constitution states the rules regarding the executive, the legislature, a judicature and the public service.  It contains provisions relating to Jamaican citizenship and to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.

The Jamaican Constitution provides protection of the right to life; protection from arbitrary arrest or detention; protection of freedom of movement; protection from inhuman treatment; protection from arbitrary and unjust deprivation for property; protection from privacy of home and other property; provision to secure the protection of the law; protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, place of origin, political beliefs, colour, creed or sex.

Some sections of the Constitution are entrenched, or specially entrenched because they are considered extremely important. These sections can only be amended in special way. Entrenched sections may be amended in the following ways:

The Bill for amendment must be passed by a two third majority of all the members of each house.

There must be a period of three months between the introduction of the Bill in the House and the start of the debate on it. Another three month period must pass between the end of the debate and the passing of the Bill in the House.

If the Senate refuse to pass the Bill after the House has sent it up on two occasions, a referendum may be held.  If the amendment is then approved by three-fifths of the electorate voting, the Bill may be sent to the Governor-General for his assent.

The same procedure must be followed in amending a socially entrenched section.  In addition, the Bill for amendment must be put before the voters in referendum, after passage through both Houses.  If it then receives a majority vote of the electors, the Bill may be sent to the Governor-General for his assent.

If the Senate refuses to pass the Bill after it has been sent twice to the House of Representatives, the Bill may again be put to the voters in a referendum.  If it is approved by two-thirds of the electors it may be presented to the Governor-General for his assent.

Constitutional Reform

In July 1977, a Constitutional Reform Programme was launched to review certain aspects of the Jamaican Constitution.  As a result of a decision to widen the scope of the reform programme to encompass all aspects of the Constitution, a Constitutional Commission was launched in 1991 to undertake a systematic review of the Constitution.  The Commission will hear submissions from various interest groups and members of the public, in order to achieve a fair representation of the wishes and aspirations of the Jamaican people, with regard to the amendments to be made to the Constitution.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Local government is organised by parish.  Two of the 14 parish, Kingston and St. Andrew, are amalgamated for local government purposes and administered by the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC).

In the other 12 parishes, parochial affairs are administered by Parish Councils.  The parishes are divided into 63 constituencies, and further sub-divided into 63 constituencies and further sub-divided into electoral divisions.

Membership of these councils varies between 13 and 21 persons, elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage.

All parish capitals have mayors, who are elected by their respective parish councillors from among their number.  The Mayor is chairman of the Parish Council. Parish Councils derive the revenue from budgetary loans, grants from central government and parish taxes and rates. They administer road construction, poor relief, recreation programmes, markets ad other services, on a parochial basis.

CITIZENSHIP

A Jamaican citizen enjoys certain right guarantees under the Constitution. Citizenship may be acquired by birth, registration, or as provided by Parliament.

A person is entitled to be a citizen if he/she marries a Jamaican citizen, or was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and is naturalized or registered in Jamaica.  He or she may also become a citizen if born outside of Jamaica of Jamaican father.

The Jamaican Parliament may confer citizenship or deprive a person of his/her citizenship. Parliament has supreme power over the granting of citizenship, if it is not automatic by birth.

All citizens are equal before the law and enjoy personal freedom, but are liable to punishment in the courts for breaches of the law.

All citizens 18 old and over are entitled to vote. Citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, resident in Jamaica for at least 12 months before enumeration, are also eligible to vote. 

Voting is by secret ballot.