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Disappointment again, as walkout clouds Budget Debate

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Disappointment again, as yet another Budget Debate ended in unnecessary fracas and confusion, leading to the expulsion of a Parliamentarian, followed by the by-now familiar sight of an Opposition walkout.

“Déjà vu,” as the French would say; we have seen it all before.

Predictably, it has brought with it the usual finger-pointing and ‘blame game’. Utilizing the ubiquitous media tools, some have already shifted the focus of discussion away from the 2015 Budget itself to the issue of whether the Speaker of the House was correct in asking the Parliamentarian in question to leave the House or if he shows bias towards the Government side in his rulings in Parliament.{{more}} Sadly, political partisanship influences judgement on the matter.

What is most regrettable about the continuing “rambunctious” nature of the behaviour of some Parliamentarians, (and there are notorious repeat offenders), is that it is played out in full view of the nation, via live television. Additionally, students and pupils from secondary and primary schools are invited to observe parliamentary sessions. Hopefully, they will watch other sessions of Parliament, where they are not physically present, on television, and be subjected to childish clashes in the House.

Now, the very nature of cut-and-thrust politics dictates that parliamentary debates would be no Sunday school picnic; but do they always have to descend to levels where expulsions and walkouts become regular occurrences? Even if MPs have good cause sometimes to question the Speaker’s judgement, which is more important – pursuing the people’s business or proving a personal point? There are too many instances, too often. One can apportion blame, one way or the other, to different degrees, but in the final analysis the blame for not lifting the game lies squarely with the House.

This includes the Speaker, who is naturally at the centre of the storms. To be sure, his is a most difficult task, given the disposition of some members of the House. He is severely tested at times and patience must be strained to a minimum. Yet, as presiding officer over our legislature, it behoves him to find ways and means of managing unruly Parliamentarians whilst maintaining the dignity of the House and the integrity of the Speaker’s role. The MPs are grown adults, if not always being mature ones, and there is a fine line between being firm and preserving democracy in the conduct of Parliament’s business. It is very easy for us all to heap criticism, but it is a thankless task. In my view, the latest incident could have been prevented by a simple temporary (5/10 minutes) suspension of the House, as was done earlier in the debate.

As it turned out, the round-up speech of the Prime Minister had to proceed without the Opposition, for the umpteenth time. The Opposition, too, must make a more concerted effort to raise the bar. It is no secret that the Opposition considers the Speaker to be biased and relations between them, at least in the House, are far from being cordial on too many occasions. Have the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker ever tried to have a frank private discussion about how the Speaker conducts business, on the one hand, and how MPs behave or show disrespect on the other? Won’t this help?

This is perhaps the final year of the Parliament, but we can report no improvement in behaviour. There are some who seem bent on going to the extreme, as if trying to prove that “bad john-ism” is it. For persons expressing confidence in assuming the reins of government, this is frightening. Yes, there are genuine concerns, but are the methods used to raise them the most appropriate or effective ones? What can we expect if some of the chief offenders hold the reins of government? What examples are we setting for the young people of this country?

(I shall comment on aspects of the Budget debate in my next column).

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