It must have been a major disappointment to those Vincentians who are seriously concerned about lifting the level of our politics and the future of our democracy that last week’s Budget debate ended in a lot of raucous crosstalk.
This was after the debate was drastically shortened with both sides of the House preferring to engage in political games rather than fulfil their sacred responsibility to the people of this country.
The abortion of the debate following what can only be described as political hide-and-seek resulted in the Parliamentary Budget exercise lasting only three days and not extending to the customary week. The vast majority of Parliamentarians made no presentation on the vital subject.
There are some who would describe the government’s move as “tactical brilliance” while on the other hand there are those who would not only blame the Government for the budget abortion but criticize it roundly for the debacle.
The reality though is that the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines have been short changed, and the country suffers as a whole. There are no opportunities outside Parliament for those charged with the responsibility of government not only to give an account of their stewardship, but to do so in an atmosphere where they can be questioned and alternatives to their policies proposed. Constituents often use the annual parliamentary debate as a yardstick by which to judge their elected representatives on both sides.
While we recognize that the cut-and-thrust of politics over the years has brought with it some tactics of its own, not all of these are beneficial to our country’s development. We must never forget that Parliament itself does not formally recognize the supremacy of parties, it is the elected representatives who count most. That is why Prime Minister Gonsalves made the famous statement that when we have General Elections, we in fact have 15 elections. Those elected to office owe their allegiance first and foremost to the constituencies they represent.
It is not the first time that we have witnessed such political farce in the House. In addition to the shortening of the Budget debate we have had other instances when the Opposition has abdicated its responsibility to debate by walking out of the House and attempting to hold its own extra-parliamentary sitting. Surely, we have long gone beyond such political games, which only end up in needless finger-pointing.
The Government has appointed a number of young people to parliamentary positions, some of whom have never participated in a Budget debate. Was it not the best opportunity to expose them to the debate so the public can judge their mettle? We must bear in mind that the days when political parties held regular public meetings are long gone. In addition, the promised accountability of Ministers of government to the public has yet to be implemented. The people of this country deserve to hear from their elected representatives and officials.
Whatever the mind games behind the parliamentary farce, we need to put these things behind us. Those who represent us in parliament must take public responsibility for their portfolios and utilize the opportunity provided by meetings of the House and the Budget Debate in particular to account for their stewardship.