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A more measured, mature parliamentary debate

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Fri Apr 4, 2013

As we went to press yesterday, the debate on the Supplementary Appropriations Bill was still in progress in the House of Assembly. The EC $ 83.98 million supplementary estimates were occasioned by the havoc wreaked on this country by the unprecedented unseasonal rains and floods of December 24 last year causing damage estimated to be over 30 percent of our Gross National product (GDP).{{more}} Since the 2014 national Budget had already been prepared it became necessary to make extra, supplementary estimates to provide for the recovery and rehabilitation effort.

Even before the conclusion of the debate, there are some notable observations that one can make. First, there is the marked improvement in the atmosphere in the House. Acrimony and almost hostile contention were the hallmarks of previous parliamentary debates, but this time there was a much more mature approach. Criticisms from the Opposition were on this occasion accompanied by positive suggestions and proposals, not a feature of past encounters.

Secondly, there seemed to be consensus on the need for the supplementary estimates, the major concerns expressed were in regard to the handling of the operations. Time and again, issues were raised concerning perceived political bias in distribution of assistance and unevenness in handling claims. In a politically charged and divided country like ours, there are bound to be such allegations and it is important that, as Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace suggested, there be proper checks and double checks to ensure transparency.

It makes no political sense for any government to deny assistance to those affected by natural disasters. But in all relief efforts, now and in the past, there are always unscrupulous persons who try to exploit the situation for their own benefit. It is therefore critically vital that Government by its actions makes it clear that no such dishonesty will be tolerated and that the entire process is handled even-handedly.

Given the closeness in political support for the two contending parties, and as the date for the next general elections draws nearer, it is inevitable that both parties will try to use the recovery effort for their own advantage. This must however never be at the expense of the affected persons. The governing party will best be served by efficient and just implementation of the programmes, while for the opposing party, it is its maturity, willingness to cooperate in the national interest and, not petty politicking, which will bring rewards.

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