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Covid19 outbreak in Parliament — an opportunity for modernization

Covid19 outbreak in Parliament — an opportunity for modernization

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Becoming infected with coronavirus is an experience endured so far by more than 300 million people globally, five million of whom have perished. Deadly as it is, there is no shame attached to being so affected. Yet one cannot help but view the suspension of this week’s parliamentary debate because of an outbreak of COVID19 infections as a setback for the Government.

After all, the Government has been steadfast in its promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations as the best available tool to keep our people safe and reduce workplace downtime from COVID-19 infections. It has also worked hard to acquire vaccines, making them freely available to everyone who qualified.

The interruption of the 2022 Budget debate because half of the members on the Government side, all vaccinated, had tested positive for COVID-19, speaks to the highly infectious nature of the omicron variant of the virus and puts us all on notice that we cannot for a moment let our guards down, regardless of our vaccination status.

Though it is proposed that there would be a resumption on Friday of this week, given the fluidity of the situation, it is not certain that the resumption would proceed as proposed. In the meantime, uncertainty grows concerning vital programmes funded from state coffers and affecting thousands of people, including those on disaster relief.

Given the political backdrop to this situation, with at least one parliamentarian on the Government side having made a disparaging remark about an opposing colleague in relation to his unvaccinated status, there must be a good deal of temptation on the part of the Opposition to react politically and not to be sympathetic to the plight of their colleagues.

Our objective reality is that the longer this unfortunate situation in Parliament remains, the worse it will be for us all.

Clearly the COVID-19 threat is going to be with us for quite a while and we must find ways of living with it, while trying to contain its spread and minimize its effects. It calls for adjustments in our approach to daily life and Parliamentary proceedings are but one part of this.

We cannot suspend the Budgetary proceedings indefinitely, especially if the situation with infections worsens, therefore what creative steps can be taken, using modern technology, to enable the work of Parliament to continue? Clearly this can best be accomplished if there is consultation and agreement between the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Speaker. Already there have been hints that Parliamentarians can be allowed to make their contributions to the Budget debate remotely, using modern technology. This would call for some clear guidelines and agreement among the parties involved and would also have to be such that subsequent abuse is avoided.

It may sound simple but given the deep mistrust on both sides of the political divide, it is no easy task. Understandably, those on the Opposition benches may be tempted to respond that this is “their time”, given the obvious embarrassment the present situation has brought to the Government, and may well misguidedly be “smelling blood”. Unfortunately, it calls for statesmanship, a sense of national duty and responsibility. If our political leaders are, in the circumstances, prepared to put the nation’s interests first we can usher in a new era of cooperation amidst rivalry which can bode well for our and for Caribbean civilization.

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