The new session of Parliament began on January 17, with the swearing in of the 63 elected representatives, who won their seats in the General Elections on December 29, 2011, and 20 of the 21-member Senate.
During the ceremony, Member of Parliament (MP) for South Manchester, Michael Peart, was chosen as Speaker of the House of Representatives, while MP for Central St. James, Lloyd B. Smith, was chosen as Deputy Speaker.
Rev. Stanley Redwood was elected as President of the Senate, and Senator Angela Brown Burke to serve as his Deputy. The Opposition Leader, Hon. Andrew Holness, is yet to appoint an eighth Senator, having named seven on January 16.
A major development over the period was the increase in the 2011/12 budget by $11.2 billion, through a third Supplementary Estimates, which was passed in the Lower House in March 21.
The new budget reflects total government expenditure of $536.4 billion for the rest of the fiscal year from the previous $525.2 billion, which was approved in the Second Supplementary Estimates on March 6.
The estimates show an increase in the recurrent (housekeeping) expenditure from $349 billion to $352 billion, an increase of $3.2 billion, while there was an increase in both Capital A and Capital B from a total of $176.2 billion to $184 billion reflecting an increase of $8 billion.
Finance and Planning Minister, Hon. Dr. Peter Phillips, said that the $11.2 billion added to the budget will allow for a pay down on arrears and ease the burden on the government of carrying over outstanding amounts to the next fiscal year.
He explained that arising out of discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) technical team, which was in the island recently, it was agreed that the government would address arrears on the accounts in this fiscal year, allowing the government to meet its obligations to not have a buildup of outstanding amounts beyond 90 days.
He said this would also allow for a clearer assessment of the state of public finances, and provide more “real” space during the next fiscal year, to take on new expenditure, rather than focusing on past due accounts.
“The effect of all of this is that our fiscal outturn for this current budget is going to be less on the primary balance. Instead of 3.6 per cent, we are going to be having an outturn of about 3 per cent, which is approximately two per cent below what was programmed in the government’s medium-term programme,” he stated.
Overall, the primary surplus will be reduced by some 0.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “Dealing with this situation now, gives the government room to manouvere as it takes the necessary steps to meet the primary target for fiscal year 2012/2013” Minister Phillips stated.
The House of Representatives also approved the withdrawal of $88.4 billion from the Consolidated Fund to carry on the business of Government from April 1, 2012 until the budget for the 2012/13 fiscal year is approved.
A resolution seeking the withdrawal of $1.938 billion from the Capital Development Fund (CDF) was also approved, with $1.786 billion for payments into the Consolidated Fund for budgetary support and $152 million to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI).
The Senate also approved a number of motions to: allow the use of communication technology by members to access data and reports for debates; the government’s commissioning of a publication of the history of Jamaica’s Parliament, to include the names of parliamentary officers, members, clerks, deputy clerks and marshals, as well as the titles of laws passed in the period since Independence; and to acknowledge the work of the Ministry of Education in co-ordinating Jamaica Day celebrations over the last 10 years was approved.
A motion, moved by Opposition Senator, Dr. Christopher Tufton in the Upper House on March 16, urging the government to enact legislation for a new Patent and Designs Bill was also passed.
During the debate on the motion, Minister of Justice, Senator Mark Golding, stated the government’s intent to introduce legislation that will provide greater protection to the country’s innovators and inventors.
In terms of legislation, Senator Golding informed that the government is compiling a “realistic” legislative programme for the remainder of the 2011/12 fiscal year, as well as the 2012/13 financial year.
In a statement in the Senate, on February 24, Mr. Golding said that Bills, which were tabled by the last government, but not passed, and those that were in an advanced state of readiness, are being reviewed to ensure that they are compatible with the policies and programmes of the new administration.
The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) report to Parliament on campaign financing was also approved on April 10.
The specific recommendations in the report are set out under the following headings: sources of contributions and donations; impermissible donors; limits on contributions to candidates and political parties; disclosure by candidates and political parties; state funding of election campaigns; national campaign fund; campaign advertising and political broadcast; monitoring and enforcement; and additional capacity for the electoral commission.
The Houses of Parliament also paid their last respects to three outstanding former parliamentarians – Ambassador the Hon. Dudley Thompson, Alexander Barclay Ewart and the Hon. Carl Rattray, who passed away during the period.