The current meeting of the Legislative Assembly will resume next Monday so that the Government can address the Immigration Amendment Bill.
The Government will move a motion to suspend Legislative Assembly Standing Orders to allow the bill to be dealt with in the House less than 21 days after it was first circulated to all Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Speaking at a special Cabinet press briefing on Wednesday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the action was only taken after ‘deep deliberation’ that went late into the night Tuesday.
‘We had to weigh all the factors, and I am convinced, as are all my colleagues, that it was best for all concerned to proceed this way,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
One of the key reasons the Government decided to move the date for resumption up from 28 December was to avoid putting many work permit holders at risk for no fault of their own, Mr. Tibbetts said.
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said there were many employees whose work permits were expiring on 31 December and that the new law had to be in place before then. If it were not, the employees affected would not be able to take advantage of certain provisions of the law with regard to applying for key employment status or permanent residence.
Mr. Tibbetts said there were several steps to the process of bringing the legislation into law.
‘When we looked at going through the 21-day [Standing Order] requirement, we accepted that it would be physically impossible to have the entire process completed by the year’s end.’
Mr. Tibbetts outlined the steps any piece of legislation must go through to become law. After it is debated and approved in Legislative Assembly, it must go through Committee stage amendments.
The staff of the Legislative Assembly then compiles the legislation, produces a velum copy and sends it to the Attorney General.
After the Attorney General checks the legislation for errors, it is sent to the Governor for a final vetting before he assents to the legislation.
The governor then sends the approved legislation to Government Information Services to be gazetted.
Mr. Tibbetts said the prospects of waiting until 28 December to begin dealing with the issue was further complicated by the fact that the Governor will be off the island from 27 December.
Although there is an acting Governor who can sign legislation in the Governor’s absence, Mr. Tibbetts said it is preferable for the actual Governor to sign legislation.
In addition, the Fridays before the Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends are traditionally only a half-day of work for Government employees, Mr. Tibbetts noted.
Had the resumption date been left as 28 December, some Government employees would have been working late into the night on Friday 29 December.
‘And it would have taken people coming in on the weekend before New Year’s Day to get the administrative work done.’
Although Mr. Tibbetts said the government prefers to have bills go through the full 21-days required by Standing Orders before they are debated, he believes the decision to suspend Standing Orders was the right thing to do.
‘In doing this, we place progress above process for its own sake; we place people ahead of politics; and principle above procrastination.
‘It serves no purpose to delay this legislative process.’
Mr. Tibbetts also said he was certain the Opposition, despite any political ‘bluster’ knew that the decision was the right one.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said he always thought the Government should have suspended Standing Orders.
‘The Government had to do what they had to do,’ he said. ‘It shows they always had the authority to do so. They didn’t need me to do anything; I can’t stop them.’
Cabinet Minister Charles Clifford said the government hopes to have the legislative part of the process completed by next Friday 22 December.
Mr. Clifford also noted that because the Immigration Amendment Bill was circulated as a white paper for public consultation in September, the Opposition had plenty of time to look at it.
‘While there have been some amendments [to the white paper], they’ve seen much of [the Immigration Bill] before,’ he said.