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Times that try men’s souls

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I can think of no better way of describing the current situation in SVG than to refer to the opening sentence of one of Thomas Paine’s essays at the time of the American War of Independence: “These are times that try men’s souls”. This has tickled my fancy, for these are indeed times that try our souls!

Even while we are still trying to digest the Yugge Farrell scenario, we moved on to what for me is the most disgraceful episode in our short parliamentary history. What happened earlier in the week attempted to abort one of the fundamental underpinnings of the Westminster system of government, that we, like other Commonwealth countries, have inherited. One of the checks and balances the system provides and is enriched by convention and widely accepted, is the right of the Opposition to table and have debated motions of no confidence against the Government.

The parliamentary opposition is an inherent and fundamental part of the structure of government. It is what helps to make the government tick. A government must be held accountable and one of the ways of doing so is by motions of no-confidence. This is so important that it is either given priority over other businesses of government, or at least debated as early as possible after, as stipulated in the Constitution. We saw an assault on the system in St Kitts/Nevis where the Speaker refused to have the motion tabled and debated. It was the Privy Council that finally put a stop to the mockery of the system.

What happened in our parliament not only makes a mockery of the system, but it defies commonsense and logic and turns on its head the very system that allows it to function. How can a government be allowed to amend a motion of no-confidence brought against it, to produce a motion that is the exact opposite of the intention of the original motion? But, moreover, members of the Government seemed to have expected that priority be given to what turned out to be a motion of confidence in themselves. Even the question of the Government’s amendment of such a motion is a very fishy issue, for despite parliamentary convention that dictates otherwise, there appears to be some precedence for it. In any event, one expects that this would have been treated as a serious issue.

To add to this fiasco, the Speaker then admits the day after that he erred, and I certainly applaud him for this! So, what next? Questions might be raised based on section 47 (2 a) of the precise timing of a motion of no confidence, but the process had started and that was not then in question.  Do we now start from square one and pretend that what happened never did? It certainly cannot be business as usual!

What is disturbing is that some of our bright people applauded this bizarre behaviour.  We are a strange country indeed, one inhabited by a number of house slaves and yard fowls. There are obviously errors in our education system that prevents us from looking at any issue and analyzing it as objectively as we can. Education was to produce the human resources that are necessary to propel us

into the 21st century. Wasn’t education about liberating us and equipping us with the tools to take control of our independence?

To end with Paine, “Tyranny like hell. Is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph . . . Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” The question is, shouldn’t we preserve our democracy at any cost? 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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