Stop the “kicksing” in Parliament!
That message was telegraphed by President Paula-Mae Weekes yesterday as she delivered the feature address at the 44th Conference of the Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic (CAA) Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
The Theme was Globalisation and Nationalism: Quo Vadis - Impacts on Commonwealth Parliaments.
Referencing various developments which have occurred in TT’s Parliament, Weekes gave a special nudge to local parliamentarians — to the point that she employed Explainer’s 1979 calypso “Dey Kicksin’ in Parliament” to stress concerns.
Weekes opened her address noting conduct in T&T’s Parliament, “Even the most casual observer of the proceedings in our Parliament would be concerned about how the people’s business is being conducted, and those who follow avidly might well be alarmed.
“Walkouts, ‘put-outs’, distrust, thinly-veiled insults, inability to arrive at a consensus quickly, if at all, on the simplest of issues, referrals to the Privileges Committee, whether apologies are to be offered; all seem to take precedence over formulating laws for the good of our citizens.”
She added: The core function of our distinguished Houses is essential and purposeful, but what does the average man on the street think about what goes on there? Forty years ago, one of our calypsonians, Explainer, expressed it this way; referring to our lawmakers, he composed a song entitled ‘They Kicksin’ in Parliament.’ The bad news is, public opinion hasn’t changed for the better since then. Around much of the world, this region included, people are losing faith in the elected/appointed officials entrusted with making laws.”
To the average citizen, Weekes said Parliament can appear to be a glorified “talk shop” governed by self-interest and partisanship. She noted the view of Harvey Atwater, American political consultant during the Reagan years, who said, “Perception is reality.”
Challenging parliamentarians to confront the criticism and provide a credible, comprehensive response, she said the question of “Whey we goin’?’ has also to be asked generally of parliamentarians’ stewardship.
She noted controversy and constitutional crisis have erupted in Guyana.
She said, And in T&T we approach the 29th anniversary of an attempted coup d’état which played out in our Parliament and shook the nation to its core; we in the Caribbean are no strangers to political crisis and intrigue and we can reasonably expect more of the same.”
Not unlike the calypsonian, she said, parliamentarians are the people’s mouthpiece, conveying concerns and perspectives.
“According to the United Nations, people in the Caribbean want representatives to address two main concerns: job opportunity creation and assistance in getting jobs. Simple requirements, but satisfying them can call for complex solutions. And that’s where the parliamentarian comes in,” she said.
“Members of Parliament must be unafraid and unfazed when it comes to dealing with matters which affect the man on the street, making hard decisions and legislating accordingly. Once electoral and appointment processes have run their course, representatives have the paramount duty to hold the interests of their constituents above their political selves,”
Weekes also noted that where parliaments conduct effective scrutiny of public spending, there’s a lower incidence of corruption. She cited Transparency International’s ranking of Barbados with the lowest level of perceived corruption in the Caribbean, placing 25th globally and Bahamas, 29th.
“T&T’s a disappointing 78th on the Corruption Perceptions Index (2018). While we have room for improvement when it comes to the perception of corruption, there’s another concern: how seriously those who sit in parliament view their responsibilities,” she said.
Weekes again quoted part of Explainer’s calypso:
“I feel the government in this country
Should treat the people more seriously;
When they have they Parliament meeting
Something constructive should be happening;
They kicksin’, kicksin’ all the time, they blowing everybody mind,
Foodstuffs have a shortage daily, business places burning in the city,
Before they watch these things seriously, the whole meeting is a comedy;
Ridicule, fatigue giving, and all of the members laughing
While they having a good time, we caching we royal behind.”
Weekes said it was “a stinging indictment and we must ask whether it’s as current now as it was then.”
“While there ‘s certainly room for picong and jollity, there has to be alignment between the distinguished and important nature of the work and the conduct exhibited by those who sit in parliament. Debates will become passionate, even heated, but our representatives must model the highest standards of dignity, respect and civility while in the Chambers.”
“With the advent of the Parliament Channel on local television, our nation gets to witness the behaviour, and sometimes, the misbehaviour, of its representatives. Our young people, in the spirit of the old Malian proverb, ‘monkey see, monkey do’, will consider what they see us do, to be appropriate, and so mimic and perpetuate the standards we set.”
- by Gail Alexander. Photo by Shirley Bahadur.