Thursday 5th June 2003

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Parliament must set the tone

The Constitution recognises the House of Representatives and the Senate as the supreme fora for the conduct of the business of T&T. Today, most of us recognise behavioural problems in the school population, road users, the public service, law enforcement agencies, sport and even the church.

In fact, not too long ago, conventional religions preached that the penalty for scandal was hanging a millstone around the neck of the guilty party and hurling him or her into a well, hopefully with water.

These days our psychologists speak about adult exemplars, teaching by example. But where is society to find such a thing in some plentiful supply or to some degree which will impact favourably on the decline in standards of politeness, courtesy, deportment and respect for one another?

The Chamber focuses on the Government and Opposition members of the Upper and Lower Houses. In recent times, the very first session of the sittings, we have witnessed first-hand President Baboolal using her casting vote to buy more time for Minister Rennie Dumas to answer controversial questions about salaries to WASA’s chief executive officer and his assistants.

More recently, we have continued to witness televised clashes between Senators Wade Mark and Danny Montano, Kelvin Ramnath and Speaker Barry Sinanan, Senator Robin Montano and Senate President Baboolal.

The Chamber appeals first and foremost to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House to take charge of the proceedings which they are supposed to chair. By take charge, we mean that the procedural rules, if not, certainly universally accepted standards of decorum, provide for debate, not insult, respect for the chair, not ridicule, and the orderly conduct of the nation’s business, not a market. We therefore call upon the chairmen to exercise their powers in such a manner to ensure that exemplary behaviour is what emanates from the parliamentary chambers.

To all those who are supposed to grace the latter, but are scurrilous and disorderly within the precincts of the House, the Chamber reminds them of the need to discharge their sacred responsibilities to those who elected or nominated them to the fora, to do so responsibly and courteously. Let not the weight of presidential or the Speaker’s powers have to compel your adherence to acceptable standards of behaviour.

The Chamber suspects that the Opposition will contend that any indiscretions have been propelled by an enthusiasm to insist on fairness, to criticise bias in the application of the rules of engagement and to convince those they represent, that they do so fearlessly and with conviction.

We have no quarrel with this, provided it is in the interest of the common good and executed tastefully.

We have already written in this column about the Opposition’s unfortunate decision against supporting the Kidnapping Bill resulting in the dilution or elimination of provisions which strike at the very evil of this crime, all in the name of constitutional reform or Caroni Ltd, or, perhaps, discrimination of one kind or another.

The Chamber advocates that although the Government is elected to manage the country, the role of the Opposition is to ensure that a balance in that management is achieved, in the interest of the common good, by constructively reviewing, discussing in debate and arriving at consensus, wherever possible, in serving such an interest.

Not only must the contributions by the Opposition be civil in presentation, but they must faithfully and genuinely represent the views of all their constituents, whether supporters or not. This goes for the Members of Parliament who belong to the ruling party as well.

The risk that this negative attitude of the Opposition poses is that sooner rather than later, Prime Minister Manning and his other parliamentary colleagues may begin to table proposed legislation of a type which will completely ignore the concerns of anyone else but members of the PNM and about which leadership Mr Panday and his MPs frequently denounce in public as a dictatorship and disrespectful of the rule of law.

While the Leader of the Opposition and his MPs may not be elected to make the Government look good, as they seem to believe, the Chamber is of the opinion that all who sit in the Senate and Lower House must represent the collective interests of every single elector. One of them is crime and what it takes to address this scourge.

The strategy to double deal, obstruct and offend those moving forward with the parliamentary agenda has no place in a developing country faced with challenges that require a collective, constructive approach to address them successfully.

The Chamber urges both political parties to restore, maintain, preserve and respect the dignity of Parliament and conduct the affairs of the people in a manner which will be exemplary to all who reside here, particularly the impressionable minds of youth.

To the Opposition, we encourage its members to be positive, constructive and productive with the trust of all they were elected to represent.

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