Sunday, October 28, 2007

Opposition defers response to Mullings' Cuban bulb statement

Opposition defers response to Mullings' Cuban bulb statement
BY BALFORD HENRY Sunday Observer writer
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The issue of the $276 million distribution price tag on the four million
light bulbs donated to Jamaicans by the Cuban Government was the highlight
of Tuesday's sitting of Parliament. But just as interesting was how the
Opposition fumbled a response to the statement on the issue from minister of
energy, mining and telecommunications, Clive Mullings.
As soon as Mullings sat down, former minister of energy, Phillip Paulwell,
rose and said that in addition to some questions he wished to ask of
Mullings, his former minister of state, Kern Spencer, who was in charge of
the distribution of the bulbs, also wished to make a statement.
Paulwell suggested that this would be in keeping with the prime minister's
indication of "openness and clarification being provided upfront".
However, the speaker, Delroy Chuck, said that while the promise to allow
Opposition members to make statements was not yet approved in the Standing
Orders, he was willing to grant permission for a response if Spencer would
be "as brief as possible".
But leader of the House, Derrick Smith, said that although he was not
opposing the privilege, he felt that "as brief as possible" was too
open-ended. He suggested that any response should be limited to three
Acting Leader of Opposition Business Fitz Jackson, said that he fully
acknowledged that the parameters for Opposition members to respond to
ministers' statements were not yet approved, but he suggested some
preliminary guidelines, including that the length of
the response should depend
on the depth of the
minister's statement.
He said that Mullings' statement was of great significance and Spencer would
defer his response until he is able to fully digest the content.
"Bearing in mind, Mr Speaker, that we have a convention in this House that
whenever statements are made by ministers, the opposite side is given the
benefit of seeing a copy of the statement to be presented. This was not done
on this occasion," he added.
Smith: Mr Speaker, the member needs to make up his mind. He can't be wanting
to digest the (minister's) statement to make a statement and, at the same
time, be allowed to ask questions in response to the statement. It must be
either or either. He is entitled to ask questions. But that's it.
The speaker told the Opposition that they were entitled to ask questions.
However, he said that if a statement is to be made in response, it had to be
made then.
Jackson said Spencer wanted to defer making his statement until he has
received a copy of the statement. However, Paulwell wanted to ask questions.
Paulwell asked if any calculation had been done to verify that the
commitment of four million bulbs would value J$1.5 billion to J$2 billion.
Mullings said that the bulbs were provided free of cost so the figure must
be in relation to the installation costs.
Paulwell: Is the minister aware of the total saving that would accrue from
the programme?
Mullings sought the guidance of the speaker. He said that the questions were
not based on the statement he had made, which was about the sums paid for
the installation of the bulbs and not what could result from their
He suggested that Paulwell table the questions for him to answer at a later
Paulwell said that it was important to answer in order to put the matter in
Mullings: Mr Speaker, that statement suggests that the end justifies the
Paulwell: No. It is clearly not that. But since the minister says he is
prepared to answer the questions at a later date, I will comply.
The speaker asked Spencer if he was making a statement, or asking questions?
Prime Minister Bruce Golding rose, immediately, on a Point of Order.
Golding: A member is not entitled to ask questions after a statement is
made. It is a privilege that is extended to him. We have also indicated our
support for the extension of another privilege in relation to members making
statements. But we can't have it both ways. The member cannot utilise the
privilege to ask questions on the statement today, and then come back, at
the next meeting of Parliament, to exercise a privilege to make a statement
on the same matter at that time.
There are choices in life that must be made, and, therefore, if he wants to
ask questions, he can do so today. If he wants to make a statement, then he
must reserve that for when he has had a chance to examine the statement and
make that statement subject to the speaker extending that privilege to him
at that time.
The matter ended there.

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