Golding sticks to position on new COVID-19 measures

OPPOSITION Leader Mark Golding said yesterday that he is still dissatisfied with the concentration of executive power in the hands of the Government, under Tuesday’s amendments to the Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) Act (DRMA).

Asked by journalists whether he was satisfied with approval of the amendments to the new Bill, Golding told a People’s National Party (PNP) press briefing at his official office that he maintains his position against the changes, despite his decision that the Opposition would not vote against the changes to the Act.

Golding told the House of Representatives during the debate that he was concerned that a fundamental change in the Bill, which would allow the Government to create new offences by ministerial order without the approval of Parliament, could open it up to abuse.

He told the briefing that he was not satisfied that the point he was making was not strong enough to sway the huge Government majority in the House of Representatives to support his view, and that it would allow the prime minister to criminalise conduct under the provisions of the Act without parliamentary approval.

“The point I was making was that the Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) Act, which was passed [initially] in 2013, allows the prime minister to make laws under Section 26 where there is a disaster, but did not make breaches of those orders a criminal offence,” he said.

“The effect is that, in a disaster, the prime minister can basically criminalise any conduct that he sees fit, without Parliament having any say in the matter. I believe that it is fundamentally wrong, bad governance and inconsistent with our democratic traditions and the balance of power between the different arms of the State,” he said.

However, his proposal for a delay in voting on the changes, which emanated from the Government’s decision to create new ticketing fines ranging from $3,000 to $500,000 for people charged with disobeying the protocols of the country’s response to the pandemic, was dismissed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

The prime minister said that he would have found common ground with Golding, if the case was that the legislation did not prescribe what the prime minister could do, and when these exceptional powers could be used. He also noted that the powers could only be used in the case of a declaration of a disaster.

Golding said he would not call for a divide to vote on the legislation, noting that the country was facing a crisis and the Government had a large majority which the Opposition could not defeat.

“I don’t want to appear to be thwarting the efforts to solve the crisis to have major misgivings with the way it is being done, but I am not going to stand in your way,” Golding told the prime minster.

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