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Sunday 25 August 2019
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President scolds parliamentarians

TT President Paula-Mae Weekes addresses the 44th annual Conference of the Caribbean Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain. Photo by Kerwin Pierre
TT President Paula-Mae Weekes addresses the 44th annual Conference of the Caribbean Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain. Photo by Kerwin Pierre

PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes began her feature address to the 44th Annual Conference of the Americas and Atlantic Region Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) with scolding parliamentarians for their behaviour in the TT Parliament.

"Even the most casual observer of the proceedings of our Parliament would be concerned about how the people's business is being conducted. Those who follow avidly might well be alarmed. Walk-outs, put-outs, distrust, thinly-veiled insults, inability to arrive at a consensus quickly if at all on the simplest of issues, referrals to the Privileges Committee, whether to apologise or not; all those seem to take precedence over formulating laws for the good of our citizens."

She was speaking at the opening ceremony of the week-long event held Monday at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain. Her comment on apologies was likely a reference to the issue of Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, who has been debarred from speaking in Parliament after declining to apologise for a reported threat to Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds as instructed by the Privileges Committee.

Weekes said yesterday the core function of the distinguished houses of Parliament was to be essential and purposeful.

"But what does the average man in the street think about what goes on there?"

She referred to a song from calypsonian Explainer (Winston Henry), They Kicksin' in Parliament, from 1979.

"The bad news is, things have not changed for the better since then."

She said, while there was room for picong, there must be an alliance between the distinguished and important nature of the work and the conduct exhibited by those in Parliament. She stressed while debates might become passionate and heated, representatives must model the highest standards of dignity, respect and civility.

She pointed out that, with the Parliament Channel, the nation got to witness the behaviour, and sometimes misbehaviour, of the representatives. She said young people in TT, like the proverb "monkey see, monkey do," would consider what was seen in Parliament as appropriate and mimic and perpetuate standards.

Weekes said that around much of the world, this region included, people were losing faith in their elected and appointed officials entrusted with making laws that would directly affect their lives and livelihoods.

"And we would have gathered today and for this conference to do nothing more than socialise and network if we do not challenge ourselves to confront the criticism and provide credible and comprehensive response."

She said controversy and constitutional crisis had erupted in Guyana while TT approached the 19th anniversary of the attempted coup "which played out in our Parliament and shook our nation to the core."

She continued: "We in the Caribbean are no stranger to political crises and intrigue and we can reasonably expect in the coming times more of the same."

She said for the average citizen parliament can appear to be a glorified talk shop governed by self-interest and partisanship. She added, however, that stereotypical labels were unfortunate and misplaced when the difficult role parliament played in a functional and well-run democracy was considered.

Weekes said proper parliamentary oversight was critical to running a country and evidence indicated that where parliaments conducted effective scrutiny of spending there was the lowest incidence of corruption. She reported on the Corruption Perception Index Barbados was ranked lowest in the region with 25 globally and The Bahamas a close second at 29, while TT is pegged at a "disappointing" 78.

"And whether or not one quibble over or dispute the accuracy of their analysis clearly we are not doing well enough."

She also said there was a concern about how seriously those in Parliament viewed their responsibilities.

Weekes said women's participation in politics was important in ensuring good governance and adherence to principles of democracy. She pointed out, while women represented roughly half the global population, they were under-represented in most parliaments in the world and, according to the UN, made up approximately 22 per cent of cabinet positions in the Anglophone Caribbean.

"While the rise of women in leadership has not yet translated into the permanent shift in attitudes that one would wish it is my hope that collectively this frontier will soon be conquered."

CPA secretary-general Akbar Khan in his remarks said there were high levels of public distrust around politicians fuelled by populous leaders who presented themselves and their supporters as victims pitted against a group of elites in the political system that had become less representative of the public. He also said economic freedom and higher incomes helped to nurture a more educated and politically aware middle class which would create active centres outside of government.

"People and communities who are economically improved and educated are more likely to know their political and civil rights and, therefore, hold their governments to account."

The 19-members of the Caribbean, Americas and the Atlantic Region CPA are: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, The British Virgin Islands, The Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Monsterrat, Nevis island, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos Islands and TT.

This story was originally published with the title "President scolds parliamentarians" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.


PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes began her feature address to the 44th Annual Conference of the Americas and Atlantic Region Commonwealth Parliamentary Association with a stinging rebuke of MPs' behaviour in Parliament.

"Even the most casual observer of the proceedings of our Parliament would be concerned about how the people's business is being conducted. Those who follow avidly might well be alarmed. Walk-outs, put-outs, distrust, thinly-veiled insults, inability to arrive at a consensus quickly if at all on the simplest of issues, referrals to the Privileges Committee, whether to apologise or not; all those seem to take precedence over formulating laws for the good of our citizens."

She was speaking at the event Monday at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain. Her comment on apologies was likely a reference to the issue of Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, who has been debarred from speaking in Parliament after declining to apologise for a reported threat to Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds as instructed by the Privileges Committee.

Weekes said yesterday the core function of the distinguished houses of Parliament is to be essential and purposeful.

"But what does the average man in the street think about what goes on there?"

She referred to a song from calypsonian Explainer (Winston Henry),They Kicksin' in Parliament, from 1979.

"The bad news is, things have not changed for the better since then."

Weekes said that around much of the world, this region included, people were losing faith in their elected and appointed officials entrusted with making laws that will directly affect their lives and livelihoods.

"And we would have gathered today and for this conference to do nothing more than socialise and network if we do not challenge ourselves to confront the criticism and provide credible and comprehensive response."

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