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Thursday 21 March 2019
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Letters to the Editor

The Opposition we want in 2019

THE EDITOR: The Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives has noted the concerns expressed in the Newsday editorial of December 31, particularly the call for a Parliament that presents itself as better prepared.

The Government agrees and will certainly continue to do all in its power to ensure that its legislative agenda is robust, timely and relevant to the changing dynamics of both the national and international arenas. We acknowledge as well that an approximately 70 per cent success rate in passing legislation is worthy of improvement.

In the interest of accuracy, though, I wish to indicate that there is a difference between a parliamentary session which runs from September to July, and a calendar year. Based on information available from the parliamentary records, 20 bills were passed in the calendar year 2018. However, the House passed 18 bills in the third session and five bills in the current fourth session which began in September. A further six bills were sent to joint select committees (JSCs), while as at December 31, there are five bills before the House and three before the Senate.

This notwithstanding, the passage of legislation is a function of the entire Parliament, Government and Opposition benches and the wider infrastructure that constitutes the Parliament. For its part, the Government has ensured that the necessary infrastructure is in place for both Houses, in the various parliamentary committees and, where required, the JSCs.

Where the parliamentary agenda falls, unfortunately, is in the intransigent and ad hoc response of the parliamentary Opposition. This has become increasingly evident in their participation in the JSCs, for example, and subsequent deliberate refusal to support the legislation when it comes up for debate on the Parliament floor. This is exacerbated when they deliberately refuse, as well, to name people to the various committees, the more recent case was the Income Tax Amendment Bill, and equally important, the committee established to examine the Draft National Strategic Development Plan, aka Vision 2030.

The constant arbitrariness of their demands, often made at the last minute; their refusal to submit written amendments; their refusal to support legislation not on the merit of the legislation; and their constant shifting of the legislative goalposts, have made the Parliament chamber a battlefield of political chicanery where one could never, with any degree of certainty, predict an outcome.

The national community would have witnessed, via the Parliament Channel, the battle of conscience experienced by Dr Fuad Khan, the member for Barataria/San Juan, as he struggled to come to terms with his own party’s refusal to support the nomination of Gary Griffith as the Commissioner of Police. Unfortunately, in that instance and in so many others, party trumped country.

Perhaps the Government’s expectations of the parliamentary Opposition are too high, and for this we apologise to the national community. Perhaps we judged them by the standards we had set for ourselves when we were in opposition. We knew that the population expected us to be a responsible opposition, and therefore we supported legislation that was in the national interest, we offered credible amendments where they were necessary, whatever we said in the various committees, and we always came to the Parliament prepared to engage in robust debate.

The Government has already signalled its intention to bring several critical pieces of legislation to the Parliament in 2019, including the Local Government Reform Bill, the Campaign Finance Bill and the Tobago Self-Government Bill. These bills, for which there have been several public consultations and debate already, will require Opposition support for passage. It is the Government’s hope, as we enter into 2019, that we will have an Opposition that is prepared to engage in honest, open, drama-free dialogue. In that way, I am certain, we will score far better than 18 out of 26.

CAMILLE ROBINSON-REGIS

Leader of the Government Business

House of Representatives

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