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“Ugliness’ – correct but shameful

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“This ugliness in the House” is the term used by Deputy Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Hon. St. Clair Leacock, to describe the fracas in Parliament on Tuesday when Opposition Leader Dr. Godwin Friday, had to be named, shamed and ejected from Parliament for refusing to respect the ruling of the Speaker.

It was yet another sordid chapter in the history of the Opposition in Parliament stretching back well more than a decade and covering the terms of three Speakers now.

The details of the parliamentary confrontation which occasioned Leacock’s description are covered elsewhere in this paper, but it is sad. It also reflects badly on our country that at a time of national crisis, with Parliament meeting to approve a Supplementary Appropriation Bill to cover the needs of more than 20,000 displaced Vincentians and to try and shore up and resuscitate a devastated economy, such matters should take precedence over the nation’s business.

But before we come to the sordid happenings in the House, let us put some context to it all. Here we are, a tiny country struggling to combat the COVID pandemic, with dengue fever still in our midst and then drowned in a mass of ash, mud and devastation from the volcanic eruptions. Those alone should tell us where the focus should lie, not that everything else is disregarded, including misdemeanours great or small, real or alleged, but it must be clear where our priorities should lie – relief, recovery and reconstruction.

It is true that we are not in a “bubble”, isolated from day-to-day events, for partisan politics is still very much alive as must be the rule of law. No one is above the law and allegations of criminal behaviour must be rigorously investigated and dealt with according to the law of the land. That includes allegations against members of Parliament, every “tout moun bagai” as is said in kweyol.

Thus, while the presumption of innocence must apply to one not convicted, as was said in the Editorial in the midweek edition of SEARCHLIGHT, there is public concern , “because the allegations of very serious criminal behaviour are being made against officers of the court who hold high office in the land….” The Editorial concluded by saying that, “No man is above the law and at the same time, everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. In this and every case, justice must not only be done but it must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.

Could we therefore have not employed some sensitivity in the matter? I understand that the Assistant DPP has either voluntarily withdrawn from his post temporarily or been asked to do so. Was it so hard for the Deputy Speaker either to voluntarily withdraw from the proceedings of the House until the investigation is complete or the Leader of the House request such action of her? Or is it that political partisanship has reached the stage that since the Opposition says “Bip”, the Government must retort with “Bap”?

To me we have enough ash about anyway that we could have done without some, even for one sitting of the House. Does that in any way indicate culpability or guilt? Does it make the Government appear to be weak? Or is it a demonstration that such is the priority attached to the grave matters before the House that in spite of what it thinks of the allegations, the government was prepared to make the sacrifice to avoid needless confrontation. Would this not have placed the ball in the court of the Opposition?

Having said this, the behaviour or the Leader of the Opposition is not only highly irresponsible, it was reprehensible as well. There were so many alternatives to express strong views, to disagree with the Speaker if need be, but to show respect at all times.

Has he too been affected by the “bad john” culture which has not worked for nearly 15 years now but which continues to smear the character of the NDP and in turn deny it the right to take the reins of government?

Great credit must go to Deputy Opposition Leader Leacock for trying to salvage the situation and save face for his misguided leader. One must always be able to weigh up what is at stake and not be swayed by the baying hounds being goaded on outside. How many times has the NDP not engaged in such behaviour? What benefits has it brought? Why give up on the opportunity to demonstrate to the nation in the debate your capacity to lead in a crisis?

Is this a serious Opposition force, committed to taking the reins of leadership? Or are we doomed to be saddled on the one side with a Prime Minister left to blame the Opposition for embarrassing a country seeking international assistance in a crisis, when it could be avoided by some ash-dusting, and on the other, with irrational and rabid reaction prepared to drag the good name of our country in the gutters to prove, what point?

Ugliness is really the most appropriate description.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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