Sophia Chote

Sophia Chote SC

Last month I advised the editor of this publication that I would take my column to the end of June 2020.

As those of you who follow my column may have observed, I have been writing fortnightly as opposed to weekly since the start of the year.

I enjoy writing and appreciate the feedback I got from people I would meet while out running errands or going about my daily life. Thank you for your support!

Over the past few weeks there has been a great deal of focus on the selection of candidates by political parties for the national elections which are to be held later on this year.

As a result of a development on the national stage we as citizens were reminded of the interplay between party politics and national politics, where they diverge and where they meet.

Former minister of public utilities, Robert Le Hunte, was a senator for several years. While I did not know him well, I am able to say that I found him to be well-prepared, thorough and articulate in his presentations to the Upper House.

I will not be telling tales out of school to say that a few weeks before his resignation you could see that something was on his mind. He was troubled. Then came the explosive news of his resignation as a member of Cabinet and as a minister.

The reasons given by the players involved for his resignation were so tepidly advanced that it is clear that there had been a deep division in Cabinet over a material issue, quite probably that matter of the visit of the Vice-President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, purportedly with men who had some interest in the oil industry.

It is indisputable that there was a high-level meeting with Ms Rodriguez. Instead of reminding us that while there are economic sanctions in place against our nearest neighbour, it is not unlawful to meet with any member of Venezuela’s government, the explanation by the Minister of National Security that this meeting was related to the Covid-19 pandemic was as clear as dishwater.

What followed? Citizens were caught up in an exchange of noise and accusations, with no clarification, as if what we needed to know did not matter. The dissimulation by all concerned is troubling. What is wrong with saying to the world if need be, that we are entitled to continue to have dialogue with Venezuela? Instead we came across as foolish and sly, as if we were hiding something.

Had that approach been taken, the Government may have saved a valuable minister and avoided all the ensuing criticism.

At the same time, having given a reason for his resignation which not many people seemed to buy, Mr Le Hunte ought to have seen that he was required to fall on his own sword. His other option was to say exactly why he resigned. He could not have it both ways.

Statements about decades of commitment to the party were capable of the interpretation that he was prepared to put his party above national interest and the PNM understood that and appreciated that they could not risk choosing him as a candidate for that very reason. So, the party did the right thing even though the respective ministers may not have.

Citizens have had time to reflect on many things during the months of shutdown. For me and for many people, it was an opportunity to count my blessings, to be grateful for the things which are important — family, friends, food, shelter and so on. It made me remember that I live in a home, not a house.

No one wants things to revert to how they were, social media filled with junk news about “celebrities”, rank consumerism, meaningless diatribes, polluted environments and so on. We want some cleaning up because we have spent the last few months cleaning up our ourselves, hearts, minds and our personal spaces.

Policies and politics must change. We claim to adhere to the Westminster system but that system provides for Prime Minister’s Question Time where even MPs from the ruling party may ask their leader hard questions about the impact of government policies on their constituents. It is a way to show their constituents that they pursue matters of interest to them.

The vote in the Senate during the domestic violence debate on the issue of providing protection for partners in same-sex relationships is a glaring example of our slavish adherence to practices which are not always necessary or suitable.

Under the Westminster system, for voting on issues which should be based on the individual consciences of the men and women who govern as opposed to some sterile policy, the leaders of the respective benches lift the whip, that is to say, they allow members to vote according to conscience as opposed to party policy. There was absolutely no reason for the whip to be used in a debate such as this when it was clear that there was no dispute about the main clauses. These archaic practices must change. Orwell said that habit rules the unreflecting herd. Let us change those habits and practices which serve no purpose.

So this is it, thank you for reading. The end.

Sophia K Chote SC is an Independent Senator

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