A lifelong friend of mine who shares my love for calypso resorted to that art form in describing the happenings in last week’s parliamentary debate on the Budget. He seemed to agree, at least partially, with Opposition Leader Hon. Lorraine Friday that the week’s proceedings were “farcical” but preferred to invoke the description by veteran Trinidadian calypsonian, Explainer that it appeared that “In Parliament dey kicksing”. In other words, both sides are part and parcel of the farce.
His comment was based on the shenanigans in the House following the unprecedented occurrence of a lack of a quorum when the numbers on the government side were decimated by positive covid tests and the Opposition decided to boycott proceedings in an attempt to deny Government the quorum necessary to provide for the safe passage of Budget 2022.
Both sides of course insist on the validity of the positions taken. The Opposition base their stance on the fact that it had proposed, when it first appeared the covid infections or at least positive readings, would affect participation in the debate, that the debate should be postponed by one week. This was however rejected by the government side which had insisted that the business of the people, that is the Budget passage, should not be delayed.
However, when the negative readings had reached the stage that the Government could not muster a quorum and the Opposition would not participate further, it became a situation of “desperate deeds for desperate times”. Prime Minister Gonsalves, never shy of taking radical steps, last Friday surprised even the Opposition by recalling one of his Senators who had tested positive and resorted to the appointment of a former Parliamentarian and government Minister to ensure his quorum. He even went as far as saying that he was prepared to double the revocation if necessary.
Now one could agree with one side or the other depending on one’s perspectives. Clearly, the passage of the Budget is a priority, but as the Opposition Leader pointed out, it is an empty claim when in recent years the passage of the Budget sometimes went into the month of February. That is not to say that approval of the Budget should not be expedited soonest, but one cannot help but get the impression that political games were at stake here. No wonder my friend referred to the “kicksing” part.
It is a scenario not unfamiliar in Caribbean parliamentary proceedings. In our own SVG, there have been several boycotts of parliamentary proceedings, including the budget debate on all sorts of spurious grounds. In our neighouring countries, Grenada and Barbados, politicians have played games with appointments to the Opposition following elections in which the government side swept the polls. In St Lucia, the defeated Prime Minister in last year’s elections, though retaining his seat, took months before being sworn in as an elected Parliamentarian. We have also had farcical situations in St Kitts/Nevis and in Guyana after incumbent governments were voted out by the electorate. That is why the “kicksing” reference is so appropriate.
This column has on several occasions lamented the lack of maturity displayed in Parliament and the failure to put the interests of the nation above those of political partisanship. Surely, when we reach critical situations, sensible people must be able to arrive at solutions in the best interests of the nation as a whole. That is more important than this side or that side teaching the other a lesson. We have had enough of those games and our democracy cannot be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
As formidable a political foe as PM Gonsalves reminds us all that he is, there are times when even he must eat humble pie and avoid these unfortunate developments. Surely, someone has to give a little if we are not to continue with this meaningless charade. Was there no room for compromise on the part of both leaders? Does it always have to come to these ridiculous outcomes with each side blaming the other?
It must be in the best interests of the nation, and both sides, for the Opposition to be heard and poor me cannot understand why they would eschew, time and again, the platform of a debate in Parliament to take to the airwaves of their favourite radio station to put forward their views. This has been done repeatedly and all it does is to do disservice to the nation and damage its own image.
The blind knee-jerk reaction to what seems to be considered the provocations of the Prime Minister continues to make the Opposition seem to be a prisoner of “oppositionism”, to coin a term. PM Gonsalves may be a formidable political figure, but he is not invincible. One needs to be more creative, to reach out beyond the circle of rejectionists and protesters to display statesmanship, to demonstrate maturity and to provide a credible alternative, so sadly lacking.
Finally, is there no ambition in the younger folk, much more educated than my generation, to begin to pave the way out of this dead-end of two-party politics?
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.