We Deserve Better From Our Parliamentarians
For many of us, in whom it has been drilled that the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy is the “best”, the practical experience of how it is applied, particularly in our local context, raises a number of serious questions. The session of Parliament held on Monday last has again reinforced doubts in our minds.
First of all, there was the controversy over the attempt by the Opposition to debate a Private Member’s Bill. It was not the first time that we have witnessed such an unnecessary row and, we must say, whatever the Government’s views on the motives of the Opposition or the tactics they employ, surely this situation could be handled differently.
The Parliamentary Opposition represents almost half of those who voted in the last general elections, yet, not once in the 19 years that the NDP has been in opposition has a motion put forward on its behalf been debated the way that it was presented. Those on the Opposition benches are the voices of those not represented in parliament; they have a right to be heard and serious propositions discussed and debated.
Excuses have been made over the years for the reaction of the Government either in shooting down the motions or having them substantially amended. The latest is that Monday’s motion had little to do with job creation as had been claimed. But is not that the essence of Parliamentary debate, to demonstrate the irrelevance or otherwise of the other side’s motion?
Surely, allowing the Opposition to move and debate their motion is good for democracy and would allow the Government to demonstrate the political superiority and competence they profess. The partisan political gamesmanship that passes for parliamentary practice has long outlived its purpose. The ordinary people of this country are fed up with the semantics and games, and “experience” must no longer be used to cover up attempts to stifle debate.
The second concern we have from Monday’s sitting, relates to the position of the Opposition on the proposed Parliament and High Court buildings project. We have raised on previous occasions a tendency on their part to resort to opportunist populism in relation to serious proposals for national development.
This short-sighted approach was manifested in the talk of “not appropriate at this time”, and that the money could have been used to further assist persons affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This type of argument tends to have popular appeal, but it really is empty sloganeering. Firstly, the negotiations on this needed project must have begun long before the COVID-19 pandemic. What was the government to do, ask the Taiwanese to change the building project to a COVID-19 project? But does going ahead with this building project really mean that further assistance for people impacted by the COVID-19 downturn will be impossible? We think not!
This is precisely the right time for government to borrow to do construction projects, especially given the concessionary terms and three-year grace period that come with this particular loan.
Construction projects are sure ways to put people to work and put money into the private sector who in turn can increase current levels of employment. Making an emotional argument to play on people’s fears will not help us out of the economic slump. Putting people to work will. Government should go further and fast track other construction projects, like the Port development project. We need those now more than ever. While in tough economic times individuals and families band their bellies and watch spending, Governments have to do the opposite to stimulate the economy.
Secondly, and the experience of the historic St George’s Cathedral has demonstrated, the longer we leave projects of this nature, the harder it is to rescue them before they crumble. The suffering of poor people should not be put forward as an excuse to do nothing. If that is the situation, such projects, no matter how worthy, will never be undertaken.
Our people deserve much better than this, from both sides of the House. Let us not only engage in debate but raise its level and, with it, the level of understanding and consciousness of our people.