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Parliamentary sitting calendars for 2012 - Bill Watch 18/2012
Veritas
May 13, 2012

Both Houses of Parliament are adjourned until Tuesday 15th May

Parliamentary Sitting Calendars for 2012

Before the election in 2008 of the present Parliament, the seventh since Independence, annual sitting calendars were produced at the beginning of every year and by and large followed. This meant that sittings of the House of Assembly and the Senate were reasonably predictable and Parliamentarians and Parliamentary officials, Government Ministries and departments promoting Bills, could prepare well ahead to ensure fulfilment of Parliamentary commitments, and stakeholders and interested members of the public would know when to do their lobbying and make their submissions on Bills.

Sitting calendars have not been available for this Parliament since 2008. For the first few months Parliamentary business was for all practical purposes out of action pending negotiations for the GPA and the formation thereafter of the Inclusive Government. Even after the swearing-in of the Inclusive Government in February 2009, no sitting calendar was produced for that year or for the years 2010 and 2011.

This year, however, there has been a welcome return to the practice of having sitting calendars. It is hoped that the calendars’ sitting dates will be observed as far as possible.

New Sitting Calendars

[Note: The calendars do not stipulate when House of Assembly Portfolio Committees and Senate Thematic Committees will sit. These committees meet even in weeks when their parent Houses are not sitting – but not in school holidays.]

Sittings so Far in 2012

January No sittings – school holidays and public holidays

February and March

House

28th and 29th February, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 27th and 28th 29th March

Senate

28th and 29th February, 1st, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 27th, 28th and 29th March

April No sittings – school holidays and public holidays

Forthcoming Sittings: May to December

May

House 15th, 16th and 17th May [3 days]

Senate 15th, 16th and 17th May [3 days]

June

House 5th, 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th and 21st June [9 days]

Senate 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th and 21st June [6 days]

July

House 17th July [Opening of Fifth Session] [1 day]

Senate 17th July [Opening of Fifth Session] [1 day]

August

House No sittings – school holidays and public holidays

Senate No sittings – school holidays and public holidays

Note: The Liaison and Coordination Committee annual retreat will take place on 29th, 30th and 31st August. This is a joint committee with members from both Houses.

September

House 18th, 19th, 20th, 25th, 26th and 27th September [6 days]

Senate 18th, 19th, 20th, 25th, 26th and 27th September [6 days]

October

House 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th October [9 days]

Senate 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th October [6 days]

Note: The Pre-Budget Seminar for all MPs and Senators will take place on 24th, 25th and 26th October.

November

House 8th November – Budget Day; then 20th, 21st, 22nd, 27th, 28th and 29th November [7 days]

Senate 8th November – Budget Day; then 20th, 21st, 22nd, 27th, 28th and 29th November [7 days]

December

House No sittings – school holidays and public holidays

Senate No sittings – school holidays and public holidays.

Total Number of Scheduled Sittings for the Year

House 47

Senate 41

But it must be recognised that the calendars are not set in stone. If necessary, the House of Assembly and the Senate may adjourn on a date earlier than scheduled if there is insufficient work; or continue sitting to complete work, even if the calendar calls for adjournment; or, as permitted by Standing Orders, resume sitting during a scheduled adjournment if the public interest calls for an early sitting.

Who Decides the Number of Sittings?

The calendars for the House of Assembly and the Senate were drawn up by the Business of the House Committee and the Business of the Senate Committee, respectively. These are Standing Committees, chaired in each case of the presiding officer concerned [Speaker, Senate President] plus the leader of Government business, the leader of the Opposition [where there is an Opposition] and the party chief whips or their deputies.

The formulation of the calendars is guided by a simple basic policy: no sittings are scheduled during school holidays, or in weeks which coincide with a public holiday or national event. The expense associated with plenary sittings has also to be taken into consideration.

Why so Few Sittings?

There have been relatively few plenary sittings in the current Parliament. Previous Parliaments often had about 90 plenary sittings in a year. This Parliament has been criticised not only because it sits for very few days in a year but also for the brevity of some of the sittings. True, the Inclusive Government has not introduced many Bills, but even if there is not a busy legislative agenda, it would have been expected that more time would be spent on raising and debating issues of national and constituency interest. There are of course budgetary limitations to the number of sittings. Like any other State institution Parliament should keep within its approved budget for the financial year [January to December]. But, like any institution in an economically constrained country, Parliament must plan its business to be cost-effective and not have the Houses meeting for just a few minutes, which is wasting taxpayers’ money.

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