January 24, 2014
Shame on you 19 silent Parliamentarians!

Fri Jan 24, 2014

If the issues at hand were not so serious, one could be forgiven for invoking the memorable lines of the calypsonian, Explainer, “In Parliament dey kicksing” in reference to the Budget debate that never took place. However the matter is far too grave to adopt such a flippant approach.{{more}}

How could nineteen Members of Parliament (MPs), elected and nominated, sit in our highest institution and pass up the opportunity to inform us of their perspectives on the Budget for 2014? It is true that in light of the massive destruction of the Christmas floods, and because the Estimates of expenditure and revenue were already approved by the House in December, there is obviously a need for a supplementary Budget. But that is all the more the reason why a robust debate was necessary.

In addition to loss of life, injury and damage to infrastructure, the Christmas weather has stirred up its own political storm over the distribution of relief supplies, with the Opposition very critical of Government on that score. What better forum to ventilate those charges than in Parliament? What greater opportunity could one have not only to criticize, but to propose alternatives including for the operation of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO)?

The general public listens to the Budget more than any other session of Parliament, they follow it keenly both on account of its implications for life in the country over the next twelve months, as well as to judge the performances of their Parliamentarians, the elected ones in particular. Do our MPs not understand this? Don’t they also respect the desires of their supporters to either hear the Government explain its policies or the Opposition tear them to tatters?

It is therefore a grave dereliction of duty for 19 of the 21 MPs to sit in Parliament and leave the only skirmishes to take place between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It happened before, sadly, when Sir James Mitchell’s NDP was in government and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party in opposition. We had hoped that there would never be a repetition. To sit and play hide and seek, waiting on each other to “talk first”, is nothing but downright childishness and disrespect for the public. Both sides must share the blame.

On the one hand, the Government via its Ministers has a responsibility to explain and promote the proposed actions of the various ministries, regardless of whether the Opposition chooses to remain mum or not. In addition, this action has deprived the new senators, Gonsalves (Jr), Thomas and Browne of their first opportunity to participate in a national debate on the Budget. At a time of national crisis, leaving comments from the Government side, only to the PM is inexcusable.

On the other hand, the silence of the Opposition, save for its Leader, is equally irresponsible. There are no speaking order rules and “wait and see” might be a useful tactic, but up to a point. How could they eschew the opportunity to literally roast the government over the coals, given its daily indictment of that same Government? If Ministers would not get up to speak, then focus on the actual Budget presented, the handling of the response to the floods, and the philosophy any policies of the Government a set out in the Budget address.

In the end, it is the Opposition which has more to lose since it must convince the electorate of the need for the New Democratic Party to be in government. Regrettably, this is not the first time that the Opposition has chosen the comfort of an accommodating radio station rather than Parliament to air its views, raising questions about its tactics and maturity.

We must let our Parliamentarians know that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and disrespectful of the nation. There must be no such repetition.