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Since the Government took office in September, a number of legislations have been passed in both Houses of Parliament, addressing issues such as pension, corruption, crime, and regulation of the scrap metal trade.
To this end, Minister of Industry, Investment, and Commerce, Karl Samuda, in November, tabled a Ministry Paper in the House of Representatives, paving the way for new trade regulations to be introduced for the scrap metal industry.
Scrap metal was removed from the list of items requiring an export licence in 1992. But based on recent developments in the industry, it has become necessary to again regulate the sector.
According to Mr. Samuda, the main elements of the regulations include licensing of exporters and dealers within the scrap metal industry; and the issuing of export licences based on on-site inspection of the loading of containers by officers of the Customs Department.
In terms of pensions, a Bill to amend the Pensions (Prime Minister) Act, to allow current and future Prime Ministers entitlement to pension at an annual rate equivalent to two-thirds of the annual salary of the Prime Minister, instead of the current 100 per cent, was passed in the House of Representatives.
Also, a Bill to amend the Income Tax Act, was passed in January in the House of Representatives, so as to allow for conformity with the Pensions (Superannuation) Fund and Retirement Scheme Act, which was passed in 2004.
“This is with respect to maximum pensions payable and enabling self- employed persons, and those in non pensionable employment to effectively provide for their retirement by providing more attractive contributions under retirement schemes,” Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Audley Shaw explained.
The House of Representatives, in June also approved amendments to the Employment Termination and Redundancy Act 2008, thereby allowing increased fines for companies and individuals who breach the Act.
Minister of Labour and Social Security, Pearnel Charles, who piloted the Bill, said amendments to the Act, will allow the Resident Magistrate Court to adjudicate on matters relating to redundancy entitlements not exceeding $1 million.
Meanwhile, a Bill to amend the Property Tax Act, so as to simplify the method for the calculation and payment of property tax in order to achieve increased compliance, was passed in March.
The Bill, which was piloted by Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Senator Dwight Nelson, sought to make permanent, the rate of property tax, which was introduced in 2005 under the provisional Collection of Tax Act.
This rate, which has simplified the calculation process, provides for a threshold of $300,000; a flat rate of $600 to be paid on values up to that threshold; and a rate of 0.5 per cent on any amount of value in excess of $300,000.
An Act to amend the Mortgage Insurance Act, was also passed in June and it sought to expand the definition of ‘lender’, to include financial institutions licensed under the Financial Institutions Act. In addition, it sought to reduce the portion of insurance fees to be paid into the mortgage insurance fund from four-fifths to three-fifths.
The amendments to the Mortgage Insurance Act, allows for a greater pool of funds for primary financing, which in turn can be made available to mortgage granting institutions and reduce down payments for purchasers.
The Houses of Parliament also approved, in February, a Resolution to amend the Early Childhood (Amendment) Regulations (2008), in order to effect the reduction of the fees charged by the Early Childhood Commission. The cost for the registration of early childhood institutions was reduced from $3,000 to $1,500. Fees charged by the Fire Department were also reduced from $2,500 to $1,500, and food handlers permit reduced from $500 to $300.
In terms of Bills dealing with the issue of crime, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, tabled a Green Paper on the proposed Whistleblower Legislation in the Senate on May 2.
According to Senator Lightbourne, the Green Paper sets out the broad outline of the concept; the principal characteristic features of the Whistleblower Legislation as it has developed internationally; certain relevant issues that arise for policy decision; and gives the Government provisional views on certain aspects of the whistleblower regime.
Also, three Bills addressing the backlog of court cases were passed in the Senate in July.
The Bills amended the Judicature Supreme Court Act, in order to increase the number of Judges of the Supreme Court and the number of Masters; the Judicature Appellate Jurisdiction Act, so as to increase the number of Judges of the Court of Appeal; and the Jury Act, to enable the Registrar of the Supreme Court, to make appropriate arrangements for the serving of summons to jurors, and to remove this responsibility from the Commissioner of Police.
Senator Lightbourne, who piloted the Bills, noted that they form part of the crime-fighting initiative, “and this is the justice aspect to speed up the trial of cases and the backlog of cases, and to bring on extra courtrooms. We are trying to find space to at least speed up the Gun Court trials and to create two extra Gun Court rooms and in all of this, we will need extra judges.”
In November, Cabinet issued drafting instructions for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the excessive use of force and instances of abuse by members of the security forces. A draft Bill to this effect was prepared for presentation to Parliament.
During the Senate’s sitting in May, Senator Lightbourne explained that “this new body will be able to take over crime scenes, and it will operate a 24-hour operation at all times. It will be regional, in that you are going to have commissioners in each of the five police divisions, and as soon as an incident occurs, they will go in.”
In addition, Senator Lightbourne informed that a draft Bill creating the Office of Special Prosecutor, to investigate and prosecute corruption in both the public and private sectors is also to be presented to Parliament. She noted that the Special Prosecutor cannot override the constitutional position of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
These initiatives, Senator Lightbourne said, “form part of a package of measures designed to transform the way in which the public and private sectors conduct business in the country.”
Meanwhile, both the Upper and Lower House approved a Bill entitled: “An Act to Amend the Broadcasting and Radio Re-Diffusion Act” in July.
A Bill to amend the Broadcasting and Radio Re-Diffusion Act, that seeks to expand the categories of broadcasting licences available under the Act and also to recognise independent programme providers as licencees within the cable framework, was passed in the Senate on July 25.
In terms of other achievements, Jamaica now has a legal framework in place to test its athletes for banned substances, following the passage of the Anti-Doping in Sport Act 2008, in July.
“The Bill is intended to provide a strong framework for Jamaica’s anti-doping programme to ensure that the nation’s athletes are assured of an environment which continues to nurture, celebrate, and secure their sporting excellence, free from the taint or question of doping enhanced performances, which sadly, our athletes have competed against in the past. Practices which now pose a threat to the integrity, value, and viability of sporting competitions,” Senator Lightbourne stated.
She noted that, with this legislation, Jamaica would maintain its enviable position in sports, with its impeccable standards, reputation, and record, and that the Government would be vigilant in ensuring that “the playing field is level and remains level.”