President Paula-Mae Weekes is not impressed with the way Parliamentarians carry about themselves in both the Houses of Representatives and the Senate.
She made her opinion very clear this morning at the opening ceremony of the 44th Annual Conference of the Caribbean, Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), held at the Hyatt Regency.
In her 15 minute address, Weekes urged MPs to maintain the highest standards in the Parliament as the nation’s youth were looking on and “will consider what they see us do to be appropriate and so mimic and perpetuate the standards that we set”.
“Even the most casual observer of the proceedings of our Parliament would be concerned about how the people’s business is being conducted. Those who follow vividly might well be alarmed. Walkouts, put outs, distrust, thinly-veiled insults, inability to arrive at consensus quickly, if at all, on the simplest of issues, referrals to the privileges committee, whether to apologise or not, all those seem to take precedence over formulating laws for the good of our citizens,” Weekes said.
She said while there certainly is room for picong and jollity, there has to be alignment between the distinguished and important nature of the work and the conduct exhibited by those who sit in Parliament.
“Debates will become passionate, even heated, but our representatives must model the highest standards of dignity, respect and civility while in the Chamber,” Weekes urged.
She emphasised that the core function of the Parliament is essential and purposeful.
“What does the average man in the street think about what goes on in there? Forty years ago one of our calpsonians, Explainer, expressed it this way. Referring to our lawmakers, he composed the song entitled They Kicksin’ in Parliament”.
She said to the average citizen, the Parliament can appear to be a “glorified talk-shop governed by self-interest and partisanship”, or as 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot described it, as “nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people”.
“These stereotypical labels are unfortunate and misplaced when we consider the critical role that the Parliament plays in a functional and well-run democracy, but as Harvey Lee Atwater, American political consultant during the (Ronald) Reagan years said…perception is reality”.