WE WELCOME the remarks of President Paula-Mae Weekes who earlier this week gave a refreshingly candid assessment of parliamentarians.
“Even the most casual observer of the proceedings of our Parliament would be concerned about how the people’s business is being conducted,” the President said in a feature address on Monday to the 44th Annual Conference of the Americas and Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
“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 said.
Members of the wider electorate did not vote for Weekes, yet few would disagree with her assessment. And the President has a unique duty to air concerns over the performance of MPs. After all, she is herself, by virtue of her office, a member of the chamber.
The President’s remarks underline how, despite ongoing evolution, Parliament sometimes remains out of step with reality. Perhaps this was the thinking behind remarks made by Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Shamfa Cudjoe just hours after the President’s scolding.
“Parliament is not old people business,” Cudjoe said. “We want more youths in Parliament.” While her language could have been more carefully calibrated to avoid any suggestion of ageism, the deeper point being made was of the need for Parliament to keep up with the times.
Similarly, Weekes’ warning that “monkey see monkey do,” while inspired by a well-known local adage, was too crude. Yet, beneath it was a legitimate concern over the example being set by those in leadership positions. And in this regard the President’s remarks were directed generally not to specific parties. Still, some took umbrage.
“It is not a church, a picnic nor is it a tea party,” said UNC Senator Wade Mark in response, “This is a war room.” However, the conduct being questioned is conduct that goes well beyond the expected adversarial nature of the chamber.
Instead of taking offence, perhaps all MPs should focus on making the Standing Orders better, bolstering the work of committees and embodying the remarks of the CPA president Ackbhar Khan who, in comments that happen to coincide with the local observance of Pride Month, said the CPA stands for good governance, democracy and human rights and is opposed to any form of discrimination, including against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersexual people interested in getting into local politics.
Such remarks tell us what many already know: there is a gap between Parliament and the wider advances in society. War room or not, that’s the real thing that has to be addressed.