YESTERDAY’S extraordinary sitting of the House of Representatives was a display of maturity that showed us capable of working together for the good of the country. In unanimously passing a bill to give legal underpinning to several covid19 measures, the Parliament led by example. It was an important — if overdue — message.
The Parliament as an administrative organ was clearly keen to underline its own sense of civic responsibility. Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George is to be commended for introducing bold changes to the way the chamber pursues its business.
High levels of sanitisation, curtailing committees and tours, limiting debates and speaking times, and even modifying the seating arrangements in the 41-member chamber — all testified to the unprecedented nature of this situation.
We also welcome Government’s decision to go even further by adjourning Parliament to a date to be fixed, a measure which means MPs will only meet if there is some urgent and specific matter to be attended to.
That move is not only the responsible thing to do; it sets an appropriate tone for the nation to follow. Now is not a time to shirk responsibility, yes, but it is also a moment for judicious conduct and restraint in how we carry on with the job.
The shift in signals sent by Prime Minister Dr Rowley and Opposition Leader Persad-Bissessar, represented not only by the clear co-operation evident during the committee stage of the legislation, its unanimous passage, and the opening of a channel of communication between both officials at a subsequent meeting, represented a far more productive approach.
Only a few days ago, both parties appeared distressingly at odds. As the shell-shocked and terrified population sought solace over the covid19 pandemic, Persad-Bissessar symbolically voted against allowing the Prime Minister to make a statement in Parliament on covid19, and he, in turn, testily said she had made a career of irresponsibility.
Such bickering felt silly and distracting since all MPs and ministers need each other at this crucial time. The situation globally has gone from bad to worse, with the entire state of California, population 40 million, now on lockdown. The toll in Italy has also surpassed that reported in China.
Rowley and Persad-Bissessar, subject to increasing calls for them to stop bickering, had little choice but to come to a détente. “The deadly virus is no respecter of parties,” warned former Independent Senator Professor Ramesh Deosaran in a letter to the editor published this week.
Though one or two instances of partisanship are to be expected, and indeed persisted yesterday, we are relieved better sense has, overall, prevailed. It must not be easy for our politicians — on all sides of the divide — to swallow their pride. But far worse would be trying to get the population to swallow the bitter medicine now required without any sign of cohesive leadership.