Out of gas

Well there it is. Dr. Brown, through persistence and more than a little bit of shifty tactical work, managed to shove his beloved but controversial mandatory GPS legislation through.

The way this transpired, after years of delay, can't be seen as a big win for the Transport Minister and the PLP. But it's a win nonetheless.

I must admit to being a little surprised (and disappointed) that after years of energetic resistance, the Taxi Industry seemed to just run out of gas, threats of legal action notwithstanding.

No doubt, the sudden re-tabling, and subsequent accelerated timeframe in debating this bill was both intended and successful at preventing the drivers, and the Opposition, in getting organized.

In addition, by choosing to re-introduce the bill at the peak of the tourist season, Dr. Brown put the drivers in a tough position; they were reluctant to engage in another strike and lose valuable dollars. Now is when they make their money, so at some level I understand the practical realities of a repeat of last year's work stoppage (during Race Week) when there was a sense of inevitability to the bills passage.

It seems they're resorting to Plan B: tying the thing up in the courts. How successful that is remains to be seen.

But, and it's a significant but that should not be overlooked, the Government rammed this through in a rare extra session taking up legislation that was only introduced 7 days earlier.

Traditionally, bills sit on the Order Paper for a minimum of 2 weeks, allowing members time to review the bill and prepare for the debate. This legislation however was only tabled on June 23rd. Then, in really underhanded fashion, very late in the week, the UBP were advised that Government would be holding an extra session, solely to debate GPS, on Monday July 4th.

I'm not sure why the UBP didn't kick up more of a fuss frankly, but the intention of this move was clear. It probably came down to the simple act of counting heads, with the bill eventually passing 14-11. Which is a sqeaker.

By only informing the UBP at the last minute of the extra Monday session taking up legislation less than a week old, the intention was clearly to catch the UBP short - a little bit of insurance. And that insurance policy seemed to pay off, with 3 UBP MPs absent for the vote, allowing a severely short-handed PLP Government to sqeak it out by 3 votes.

But the numbers aren't quite that simple. If all of the UBP's MPs were present the vote would have been even. I think the PLP knew it would be close but assumed 15 would be enough by one. With the extra one being PLP MP George Scott who attempted to vote on a bill where he had a direct and well documented financial interest. That is against procedure and speaks to his lack of ethics.

Mr. Scott, when speaking in the debate a) didn't declare his interest until the Opposition Leader intervened, and b) attempted to vote before the UBP asked for a ruling from the Speaker, who ruled accordingly. Pretty scummy in both cases, but not unexpected.

So the Government was probably confident that 15 members would show up for the vote, enough to beat the UBP with all their members present, but further benefited from the underhanded tactic of adding an extra session, with little notice well within the normal waiting period.

I'm not surprised. It's just another example of the disregard of good practice, established precedent and proper procedure, minor annoyances which seem to hold little significance in our increasingly marginalised Parliament, from a Government which abhors open debate.

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