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Parliament, people must be respected

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On several occasions this column has raised concerns about the conduct of Parliamentarians,here and abroad, whilst conducting the business of the people whom they are supposed to represent.Parliament has the unique distinction of being the only place of business, the proceedings of which are broadcast live.{{more}}Therefore it is of utmost importance that Parliamentarians behave in an exemplary fashion and with the utmost decorum since their conduct can have repercussions, good or bad, in the entire society.

Not only in Parliament, we should add, but in their everyday life as well, for Parliament is the highest decision-making body and thus occupies a special position and privilege. With this, goes the responsibility to strive for the highest standards in the conduct of the people’s business.

Many times though, in countries big and small, the conduct of Parliamentarians falls far short of such high standards. We have seen spectacles of parliamentarians in South Korea exchanging physical blows in Parliament, whilst in the hallowed halls of Westminster, British parliamentarians often engage in shouting matches and child-like behaviour in full view of the public and cameras.

Our own House of Assembly is not immune to conduct not befitting of persons charged with such serious responsibility. Clashes across the floor, and between Speaker and Parliamentarians, have sometimes deteriorated to the stage of expulsions and walk-outs. Hardly the best examples of proper conduct for our nation’s youth, one must say.

Recently, in some Caribbean countries the conduct of the Speaker, who presides over this august body, has itself been coming dangerously close to bringing this office into disrepute. In Barbados, the Speaker recently had to recuse himself from presiding over proceedings after a court ordered him to refund money due to a client of his legal business.

But Trinidad and Tobago takes the cake! There the Speaker had to apologise after being accused of deceiving Parliament to ward off a motion of no-confidence in the Minister of Finance. In that Parliament, no-confidence motions seem to have become popular with not only the Finance Minister but also the Prime Minister being on the receiving end of one such motion.

But it was a motion, strangely filed by the government side against the Leader of the Opposition, that was to bring out the very worst in parliamentary behaviour. In debate on the motion, a junior government minister, Ms Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, descended to the depths of mud-slinging in “going to town” on Opposition Leader Keith Rowley.

Taking advantage of Parliamentary privilege whereby MPS cannot be sued for statements made in Parliament, Minister Alleyne-Toppin launched a vicious personal attack on Rowley. Not content with terming him an “empty monstrous obscene charade parading as a leader of the people,” she went on to scrape the bottom of a very dirty barrel, proverbially.

To the horror of all but her colleagues, she alleged that Rowley was born out of a rape situation, his father having so violated his mother, and then went on to accuse him of himself committing such a crime, against a minor, rendering him unfit for public office.

Not surprisingly there has been widespread condemnation of these vile remarks and calls for Ms Alleyne-Toppin to be relieved of her ministerial portfolio. Despicable though her performance might be, it is magnified amply by the fact that she used, or rather abused parliamentary privilege to engage in such worthless behaviour in full view of the nation.

It may have occurred in Port of Spain, but it should ring alarm bells anywhere where a Parliament sits. This is not how the people’s business should be conducted. The remarks by themselves would be bad enough on a political platform, but in Parliament? One must not confuse Parliament with political hustings nor use it for personal and narrow political ends. That is why we all need to be watchful and to remind our Parliamentarians on both sides of the House that we will not tolerate any such misbehaviour nor abuse of privilege. MPS must respect the House and the people of the country they ought to be serving.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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