Proportionally, Does Jamaica Need up to 100 MPs?

Recently, within the Jamaican parliament chambers, there have been concerns raised by some members of the lower house (Members of Parliament) over the tardiness of some of their colleagues. 

Similar concerns have long been raised over the attendance record of member MPs at select committee hearings. 

But the concerns that MPs seem to be in total agreement over are the “poor‘ salary they earn and the lack of adequate public funds to meet the needs of their constituency duties.

Then it dawned on me. 

Maybe there are too few MPs to deliver on the expectations of their constituents in addition to their parliamentary duties.

There are currently 63 MPs in Jamaica’s parliament. Between 1976 and 2007 there were 60 MPs and 53 MPs in 1972. The lower house in 1944 had 32 members.

Today, Jamaica’s population is said to be approx 2.8 million (1976, population 2 million) but locals know this is a gross underestimation of the true figure. Even with the upcoming census we all know that the updated data has to be taken with a pinch of sea salt.

But when you look at some other nations with a similar population and a democratic electoral system you will see that their lower houses have far more MPs than Jamaica.

  • Lithuania (pop. 2.7m) has 141 members in the lower house (71 members elected in single-seat constituencies and 70 members elected by proportional representation)
  • Uruguay (pop. 3m) has 99 members in the lower house chosen by proportional representation.
  • Albania (pop. 2.8m) has 140 MPs elected by the party-list proportional representation. 

The area of Jamaica is just over 4200 in square miles but with a population density of 689 per square mile (Uruguay: 52 per sq. mile, Lithuania: 111 and Albania: 251)

With so many ministers required to run the government ministerially it is difficult for the wider Jamaican parliament to operate effectively. They hardly have enough MPs to spread over the various select committees. 

Yes, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) get all the media publicity but there are a raft of other select committees which are not well represented or fully operational.

In the previous parliament when the JLP and PNP initially had a 32-31 membership some select  committees had to include junior ministers which was unwise or probably not even legal. 

E.g. During one session of the PAAC hearing where members questioned senior civil servants from the ministry of education, a junior minister from that said govt department sat in as a member of the committee and constantly cheerleaded his staff .  

Jamaica has had so many serious challenges over the years relating to the likes of violent and organised crime, corruption, unequal education & health system and an economy stuck in neutral since independence in 1962.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People’s National Party (PNP) have been the sole  custodians of the people’s parliament and you could give either an average grade of D- for their overall stewardship.

The public made their feelings known about today’s politics when over 60% of the electorate stayed away from the 2020 general election. 

I just think on top of their constituency duties it is impossible to rely on just 63 MPs to get the best outcomes for the citizens.

Many of today’s Jamaican MPs act in their constituents as social worker, financial benefactor, guidance counselor, medical consultant, farming advisor, legal consultant, career development advisor, bereavement counselor, education advisor, childcare advisor, chauffeur, a walking citizens advice bureau and much more. 

But the MPs and their close associates have long been tarnished by a perception of being linked to corruption and the pillaging of the scarce public resources. 

I just think the job of parliamentarians is so immense due to the poor state of the state as well as the sharp increase in population and the growing number of housing developments that has radically changed the shape of many towns and parishes.

The southern parishes of St Catherine and Clarendon have seen rapid surges in housing developments and there is no indication that such housing programmes will be stopping for now. Hence more constituents for the overstretched MPs.

I would not be surprised if in 10 years time St Catherine (incl. Portmore) has a population of over a million.

The increase in the population from 2 million in 1976 to nearly 3 million today is impactful for elected officials and Jamaica’s overall crumbling infrastructure. 

What’s going to happen in a few years’ time when the hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans living overseas decide to return home for good?

The extra million or so warrants serious consideration by the political class to up the number of MPs to meet the demands of such a growing population. Politicians need to think ahead and act from now.

But maybe if all or even 50% of the 100 MPs were selected via some form of proportional representation which could  give smaller political parties or independents a fairer chance of being elected to parliament. 

The least the Jamaican electorate would accept is an expanded lower house of members made up solely of MPs from the JLP and PNP.

The Westminster first-past-the-post electoral system has just not worked to attract a broad spectrum of Jamaicans to parliament. 

The PNP and JLP’s stranglehold on parliament has done a disservice to Jamaica and choked the enthusiasm out of many who would wish to serve but under a fairer electoral system. Many just don’t want to be associated with either of the 2 main political parties.

Such a duopoly winner-takes-all in Jamaica’s politics has simply failed and the powers that be must swallow their ego and take the initiative to come up with plans to attract those who have also abandoned politics.

A form of proportional representation could be part of the answer to attract groups who have played a significant role away from the parliament. E.g. those from environmental, anti-corruption and human rights groups.

So as the Jamaican government moves at pace to construct the new swanky parliament, equal consideration must be given to changing parts of the electoral system to attract more parties and independents into parliament. 

A million more Jamaicans since 1976 means the parliament needs far more MPs. Jamaica has a population density of 688 per square mile and the UK has 701 square miles (Pop. 67m).  

I agree the MPs need better pay and more money for their constituency duties. Then again parliamentarians should have term limits to ensure a regular turnover of elected officials in such a young democracy such as Jamaica.

Give thanks.

More Than 2 Should Play

About africanherbsman1967

On the corner
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