THE PARLIAMENTARY Opposition has described Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ tabling of a white paper detailing the job description for government ministers as “a start” but said the independence and effectiveness of the legislature is what will ultimately hold them accountable.
Holness yesterday tabled the document, along with a green paper, in the Lower House, outlining the expectations for ministers and members of parliament, respectively.
He said consultation began on the documents in 2019 but were disrupted by the onset of COVID-19.
“The country must have a clear sense of what is required for parliamentarians and ministers,” said Holness.
A joint select committee is expected to review, amend and finalise the green paper for policy.
Holness said that the papers set out strategic objectives of the post, its purpose, reporting and accountability framework, the key deliverables and responsibility areas, performance standards, competencies, contacts and working conditions.
“We’re not suggesting anything new or outside our laws and constitutions. However, few people have a full appreciation of what the appointment requires or the election to be a member of parliament requires,” the prime minister said.
“It is hoped that this job description will help members of the public better appreciate and understand the roles and responsibilities of ministers and members of parliament,” he added, following weeks of public protests over the 200 per cent salary increases for the political directorate.
Holness said good governance means holding legislators to the highest standards of conduct and as such, codes of conduct are to be deliberated on and instituted, some 20 years since the country last attempted this.
But opposition legislator Julian Robinson said it will take more that the tabled documents to achieve accountability.
Pointing to Boris Johnson, the former UK prime minister who resigned his MP position earlier this month after a committee determined that he misled the parliament over COVID-19 lockdown parties, Robinson said that that is the kind of accountability a parliament can hold over a member.
“We have adopted the UK system, but we haven’t adopted many of the practices from the UK system. The challenge of parliaments in small democracies is that the executive dominates the parliament.
“In larger parliaments, like the UK, where they have 650 members, they take their responsibilities more seriously than being accountable to their party … . In smaller democracies, backbenchers tend to be hesitant about independent positions because, ultimately, they want to join the executive,” Robinson said.
As a result, he added, no position is taken that will hold the executive to account.
“It is a start,” Robinson said. “But what is important is making parliament – the legislature – really independent and effective as an institution that can hold ministers to account.”
Opposition Leader Mark Golding said the job description for ministers appears to contain “largely general statements which are uncontroversial”, but said that there was nothing to suggest an embedding of an accountability framework.
He also said the performance metrics were absent.
“That would be important for it to move beyond just a statement of principles or high-level ideas around what ministers ought to do and ought not to do. It has to be something which could provide mechanism for holding ministers accountable for their performance,” Golding said.