CITIZENS are hurting and need help, President Paula-Mae Weekes told a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and the Senate at the re-opening of the Red House as the seat of Parliament.
She said she spoke as she saw fit, as no other head of state speech – here or abroad, had placed any limits on her.
“This morning I assume the role of emissary, bringing to Parliament a message from the citizens of TT who have entrusted to us the solemn responsibility to make such laws as would enable them to live secure, productive, gratifying and peaceful lives.”
Weekes said people told her daily that laws do not address their concerns, but were likely to serve just narrow, sectarian interests.
They wrongly felt she could directly intervene in such laws, she related.
“And so, I deliver their message – a message they feel neither Government nor Opposition is hearing or, if hearing, are ignoring.
“The message is as simple as it is poignant: They are hurting.”
She said while MPs and others dabble in semantics as to whether TT is a failed state or is in a crime crisis, citizens are being murdered at an alarming rate.
“They lack opportunities for employment or are losing their jobs. Food prices are spiralling beyond the reach of many. More and more of our children are falling into the at-risk category.
“Citizens are entitled to look to you for, and demand of you, solutions to alleviate their pain.”
Weekes said citizens want MPs to work together for their good.
“Even the most desperate understand the nature of politics, and that some degree of toeing the party line, posturing, old talk and picong, come with the territory.
“But at the end of the day, fidelity to the people – our vulnerable women, our defenceless children, our angry young men – must be the primary and paramount concern of parliamentarians.”
Weekes reckoned the grand and august ambience of parliamentary chambers is meant to reflect the sacredness and solemn duty which most MPs seek.
“Citizens cannot be faulted if they expect their business to be handled with complementary dignity and decorum and a degree of urgency.”
She hailed nine independent senators as impartial and even-handed as they probe and test new laws, but who need to be accommodated and equipped.
Having assented to 46 acts and proclaimed 23 in her term, Weekes said the man in the street, the office executive and the public servant can hardly find any which had improved their daily lives.
“Of course not every act can yield immediate or short term results,” she said, “but there needs to be legislation that addresses and ameliorates, promptly, critical and pressing issues confronting our population.”
Weekes said an MP’s job can be thankless and is not for the thin-skinned or faint-hearted.
“Even when legislation has been brought to the floor and thoroughly debated, citizens may still question its relevance, effect and impact on their daily lives and welfare.
“Legislative then is ineffective and unfruitful if it does not redound to the benefit of the citizens.”
Weekes said citizens have a role to play towards their own well-being and that of TT, yet also look to Parliament to lead the way, provide avenues for improvement and model desirable conduct.
“Parliament sets the tone for the average man in the street. If you are seen to treat each other with respect, courtesy and good humour, there can be a trickle-down effect and eventual cascade.
“Conversely, if acrimony, contempt and divisiveness is the example we set, you cannot be surprised when those attitudes and behaviours are replicated on the nation’s roads, in our schools and homes, and on social media.”
Saying the Parliament has awesome power, she said citizens are entitled to expect MPs to work together for people’s constitutional due and for a blue-print for national conduct.
“Law and order, truth and justice, morality and decency, these are the values which should be associated with our Parliament.”
She said a veteran journalist once wrote that she reminded him of an old creole auntie-tantie. “I accept that as a badge of honour,” Weekes declared, amid giggles in the chamber. “In my experience auntie-tanties are usually proponents of sober thinking, discipline, good behaviour and deep reflection. They often tell us what we already know and use opportune moments such as these to give us timely reminders, just in case we forgot. I hope and pray that as I address this Parliament, holding myself out as a voice for citizens, it is not a voice crying in the wilderness.”