“Citizen engagement facilitates inclusive decision making that enables more complete fulfilment of the democratic right to influence government systems, policies and processes. It entails citizen involvement in “a wide range of policymaking activities … in order to orient government programs toward community needs.”[i] Consequently, citizen engagement helps to produce equitable and long-lasting development benefits and promotes good governance.
The Committee System at the Jamaican Parliament provides an avenue for the exercise of good governance through citizen engagement in the legislative process. The operation of the committees in this respect rises to the level of consultation on the continuum conceptualized by the International Association of Public Participation.[ii] The Parliament refers matters to the committees, which may then issue public notices inviting comments. They may also write directly to entities that have an interest in the subject. Those who respond are sometimes called upon to appear before the committees which may incorporate their views into their reports to Parliament.[iii]
Not only does the Parliament seek to practice good governance through citizen engagement; it plays a greater role in advancing this ideal by considering and approving enabling legislation and other relevant documents. Good governance requires transparency, as reflected in media freedom and the exchange and free flow of information.[iv] Hence, the Millennium Declaration contains a pledge to “ensure the freedom of the media to perform their essential role and the right of the public to have access to information.”[v] Further, target 8A under MDG8 is to “develop further an open, rule based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system.”[vi] Parliamentary consideration of documents relating to transparency and improving the financial system has benefited from citizen participation in parliamentary committees.
At least fourteen civil society groups, representing the media, the library fraternity, the legal profession, civil servants, the private sector, human rights organizations and others, made contributions to the deliberations of the Joint Select Committee on the Access to Information Bill, which submitted its report to Parliament in March of 2002. The report reflects that the bill “seeks to preserve certain fundamental principles underlying the system of constitutional democracy, namely, governmental accountability, transparency, and public participation in national decision-making.”[vii] As regards citizen’s contributions to the deliberations, it is stated, among other things, that “strong representation was made by various special interest groups…that no fees should be charged for the application to access an official document” (p. 10). It appears from the proposal in the committee’s report that the words ‘prescribed fee paid or payable in respect of an application’ be deleted from clause 12 of the Bill (Appendix 1) that they accepted this recommendation.
The Report of the Joint Select Committee on the Report on the Review of Jamaica’s Defamation Law[viii] reveals that entities with an interest in communication were invited to make presentations and the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) and a private telecommunications firm accepted the invitation (p. 2). Recommendations in the review committee’s report that were endorsed by the MAJ include abolition of the distinction between libel and slander (p. 4) and removal of the offence of criminal libel (p. 9); these changes were drafted into the Defamation Bill (2011) at clauses 6 and 7, respectively.[ix]
The committee that considered a green paper on tax reform and submitted a report to Parliament in 2012[x] received numerous comments in submissions from 23 entities (pp. 1-2; 12-34), with a proposal for the removal of discretionary waivers receiving the most attention from civil society (pp. 25-29). Additionally, the committee on the Banking Services Bill (2014) indicated in its report[xi] that the bill seeks to remove legislative inconsistencies relating to various types of deposit-taking institutions even while preserving their distinctive character, and to grant rule making powers to the Bank of Jamaica (p. 4). Five non-governmental entities made submissions on the bill. While the sources of specific ideas are not identified in the report, with amendments to 94 clauses and 8 schedules plus the insertion of three new clauses, it may be assumed that citizen participation had some impact on the committee’s decisions.
The consultative function of parliamentary committees permits citizen engagement while building the legislative framework for an inclusive and transparent democracy as envisaged in the Millennium Declaration. The examples above illustrate their role in creating mechanisms to improve press freedom, access to information and the regulation of the financial system, all of which are embodied in commitments made under MDG8. Notwithstanding resource constraints, the Committee System remains a key factor in the drive to achieve good governance in Jamaica.” – Tracy Cohen – Wisconsin, United States
[i] UN Public Administration Glossary. “Citizen Participation.”
[ii] UN Public Administration Glossary. “Citizen Participation.”
[iii] Standing Orders of the House of Representatives of Jamaica, 1964 as amended 2007, Orders 68-80. http://www.japarliament.gov.jm/images/pdf/STANDING-ORDERS-OF-THE-HOUSE.pdf
[iv] UN Public Administration Glossary. “Good Governance.”
[v] United Nations (2000). Millennium Declaration (2000). paragraph 25.
[vi] United Nations (2008) Official List of MDG Indicators.
[vii] Houses of Parliament (2002) Report of the Joint Select Committee to Consider and Report on the Bill shortly entitled, “The Access to Information Act, 2002” http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/international/laws_papers/jamaica/Report%20of%20the%20Joint%20Select%20Committee%20on%20The%20Access%20to%20Information%20Act.pdf
[viii] Houses of Parliament (2010) http://www.japarliament.gov.jm/attachments/540_Report%20of%20the%20Joint%20Select%20Committee%20To%20Consider%20and%20Report%20on%20the%20Report%20on%20the%20Review%20of%20Jamaica's%20Defamation%20Law.pdf
[ix] Houses of Parliament (2011) http://www.japarliament.gov.jm/attachments/339_Defamation%20Act%202.pdf
[x] Houses of Parliament (2012) http://www.japarliament.gov.jm/attachments/744_Report%20of%20the%20Special%20Select%20Committee%20on%20Green%20Paper%20(Tax%20Reform%20for%20Jamaica).pdf
[xi] Houses of Parliament (2014) http://www.japarliament.gov.jm/attachments/1289_Banking%20Services%20JSC%20Report.pdf