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Expectations high for senate trio


No sooner had the curtain been raised on last week’s memorable Regional Reparations Conference, than another one was hoisted to reveal the latest admissions to the senatorial benches in the House of Assembly. On Thursday last, three new senators were sworn in at Parliament to fill the three vacant places for Government appointees.{{more}}

The appointment by Prime Minister Gonsalves of Jomo Thomas, Luke Browne and Camillo Gonsalves has generated a great deal of public comment, indicating strong interest among the population. Let me join those on both sides of the House, and the public in general, in congratulating the trio on their elevation to Parliament. It is only fair to say that much is expected of them, given their individual records of public service and the dire need for refreshing new voices in the august body.

Heaven alone knows how much Parliament is in need of fresh perspectives, given the constant political wrangling, many times over non-issues. Messrs Thomas, Browne and Gonsalves Jr will bear the responsibility of making a qualitative difference, provided they are not constrained by their political affiliation to the extent that their individual brilliance is muffled and potential not fully realised.

Ideally, it would have been a boon to have persons on the senate benches who could air their views independently of party affiliation. However, we do not live in an ideal world, and must deal with reality. Given our political realities, one cannot expect either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition to take such a course.

Indeed, both sides of the House had negative reaction to the proposals from the Constitutional Review Commission on broader representation in the House by way of senatorial appointments. Even the watered-down proposals which were finally put before the electorate in the Constitution Bill 2009, providing for 10 senators to be elected on party lists, were thrown out in the referendum. So, it makes little sense harping about supposed “independent” senators; we just have to press ahead for constitutional reform.

In spite of these realities, however, the new senators can make a big difference, and bring hope for the future. In this regard, their maiden parliamentary addresses, the “thank you” speeches, were quite instructive as to what might lie in store. In particular, persons who abhor the shameful oath of allegiance to “the Queen (of England), her heirs and successors”, cannot but be encouraged by the boldness of young Gonsalves in publicly admitting that he was making the pledge, not on his own volition, but because circumstances forced it on him, and calling for remedial treatment to erase this lingering shame on our sovereignty.

Gonsalves’ views on the necessity for greater female representation in Parliament should not be taken lightly. It is in keeping with international standards promoted by the United Nations, but not yet enforced in most countries. Thus, it would have been nice to have at least one of the new appointments being female, but other political considerations took precedence. Perhaps the lack of success by the Prime Minister in previous female senatorial appointments may have influenced his choices this time.

The saddest aspect of the discussions on the new senatorial appointments is the almost total concentration on electoral considerations. Not much time is spent analysing the potential value of the individual contributions and the added value that they can bring to the House. Rather we are bogged down in speculating about which constituencies the three senators would contest and their chances of success.Is that the only value of senators? Can’t we look at how parliamentary debate, practice and behaviour can be enhanced by the role of these “freshmen”?

We are selling not just this trio, but all future appointments very short in such a narrow consideration. All three have excellent credentials – Jomo has demonstrated a level of conviction, political development and commitment that is commendable; Luke, in spite of his youth, has shown that he possesses not only intelligence, but also the courage to undertake the task that the party gave him in trying to unseat the Opposition Leader; and Camillo has distinguished himself in the diplomatic field at the United Nations, bringing great credit and benefits to our country. We need to encourage them, not seek to drag them into the mire of narrow partisan politics, even trying to smear them before they embark on new duties. They each have value in their own right and one can agree or disagree with their politics, but that is no excuse to besmirch their names.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.