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Skeletons? Bury them in political graveyards

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There is a 19th century poem that those of my generation had to learn by heart which goes like this:
Old Mother Hubbard,
Went to the cupboard
To give the poor doggie a bone.
But when she got there
The cupboard was bare
And so the poor doggie got none

That proverbial doggie apparently had to go hungry; there were not even bones in the cupboard. Metaphorically speaking, the populace of countries like ours look to the National Budget as our cupboard, hoping to be fed from its provisions. We are anxiously awaiting the presentation of the 2013 Budget which begins with the laying of the Estimates before the House of Assembly on Wednesday of this week.{{more}}

Perhaps we are more fortunate than the proverbial doggie, but only in a warped sense, for what we seem likely to be fed in the Budget Debate could well turn out to be not just bones, but skeletons, if the threat of at least one Parliamentarian holds, and if the continuing rancour in our Parliament occurs again. That is a far cry from what our people need in the current economic climate.

The annual Budget Debate is the occasion when our Parliament gets the greatest exposure and widest coverage. Even persons who do not normally follow proceedings in the House of Assembly, at some point in time either tune in to, or at least hear some portion of the Debate. It is therefore the ideal opportunity for Parliamentarians to rise to the occasion, to demonstrate the mettle of which they are made, and to make all Vincentians, supporters, opponents and sceptics alike, very proud of our representation in the House.

The Budget Debate ought to be a forum for discussion not only on the 2013 proposed Revenue and Expenditure, but also on the broad development thrust for our country. It is a time when our Parliamentarians should be enlightening and infusing us with their vision for the way forward, where proposal is met with counter-proposal, all to the national benefit.

Sadly, that is not generally the path on which they tread. The petty and the personal all too often seem to override the substance and it is the vitriol and cross-talk which rises above intelligent debate. Like a bad hangover, parliament wobbles from one session to the next. Can you recall, but for few exceptions, any outstanding contributions over the past decade?

The previous meeting of the House was curtailed, after yet another walk-out by the Opposition. The issue? Another personal factor, which is almost sure to boil over into the Budget Debate, with possible sordid details about whose mother or father did this, or who has concubines, and such slime. This mindless ego-tripping and narrow politicking may sound salacious, but it does nothing to improve the livelihood of the Vincentian people. Is our Parliament a place for tattle-tales?

Both sides in Parliament have grave responsibility for lifting our game. But the temptation to put one on the other side is very strong and resonates well with rabid supporters, so no snide remark is allowed to pass unanswered, no provocation goes by without response. How can we help to uplift our Parliament?

There are those who do not like to hear it, but I must insist that we missed an excellent opportunity during the six-year Constitution Reform debate, which ended with our “God save the Queen” referendum vote of November 2009. We allowed ourselves to be sidetracked with side issues and non-issues, such as the inane debate about “inalienable rights” and the foolish talk about Chavez, communism and the like.

We missed a very relevant point in respect of the composition of the House of Assembly and how we could bypass the “us against them” syndrome. It continues to be cheers or jeers, “we right” and “dem wrong”, without a single voice that is different, not beholden to the interests of the competing parties. We have sold ourselves short in this regard and the parliamentary parties are equally to blame.

The people of St Vincent and the Grenadines deserve much more than this. Even though my plea may fall on deaf ears, I appeal to our Parliamentarians to put the interests of our country and people above personal, egotistical and partisan ones. The cupboard we need to be open is the one containing ideas, proposals, practical programmes to drive our country forward and enhance the standard of living of our people. Bury the skeletons in the political graveyard!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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