Ronald Thwaites | Going nowhere fast
"How much councillor you have in your constituency?" jibed the honourable minister of finance to Dr Dayton Campbell when the persistent and piercing questions from the member from North West St Ann were proving embarrassing for Christopher Tufton and Karl Samuda as the House of Representatives broke its vacation last Tuesday.
And as Campbell continued to point out the gross inadequacy of the answers to last year's chapter of the 'dead babies scandal' and the flop of the partisan-tainted production and marketing organisations (PMOs), "We coming for your seat next," prophesied the honourable Andrew Wheatley in his most sterling contribution to the 2017 inaugural sitting.
Despite taking many months to answer Horace Dalley's questions on vital clinical issues, Mr Tufton pleaded over and over that he was not a medical doctor (Dr Fenton Ferguson, remember, was never allowed that pass).
Karl Samuda, no mean agriculturalist, begged off the hard issues by admitting that the PMOs needed restructuring, pointing fingers at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority during the previous administration (not a hard target at all), all the while doing zig-zag switching between comedy and feigned anger, mood swings at which he and Audley Shaw are amusingly adept.
On the PMO issue, I was sorry that Minister J.C. Hutchinson, who ought to know most about the programme, was not moved (or allowed?) to say anything.
But out of the back-and-forth that lasted for more than an hour came an important remark by Minister Samuda, who warned us all that by our often vapid argumentation and puerile conduct, we would be condemning ourselves to disrespect in the eyes of the public.
Exactly, Karl. And please ask yourself and each of the other 62 whether you, we, contribute to the diminution of our craft and, by extension, to the indiscipline of our people.
House Speaker Pearnel Charles had begun the new year sitting with a well-written homily on goodwill, hard work and his hopes for effective and better-behaved sessions. But few of us were listening; the rasp of conversation on the floor muted his effort. Tough and doughty Pearnel though he be, perhaps the task of bringing good purpose to the chamber is becoming overwhelming.
He was echoed by House Leader Derrick Smith, who promised swift passage of legislation, prompt answers to questions, and timely consideration of private members' motions, of which there are many.
A number of reports from the auditor general were tabled and will likely be ignored. This is equally the case with the annual ingivings of parliamentary commissions, public companies and statutory agencies. Parliament is simply not structured to deal responsibly with all these matters, leading to excessive power exercised by ministers (really, their bureaucrats) and Cabinet.
In what should be an ongoing process of constitutional re-evaluation, the rebalancing of the roles of executive and legislature is essential.
A bill to amalgamate agricultural commodity organisations came back from the Senate with heaps of amendments that we passed without most of us (all of us?) even having the text for review.
Then Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert gracefully and mercifully closed the drawn-out constituency debate. What use has this exercise been? While much of it was partisan grandstanding, what notice has either the executive or the public taken of the cries from ordinary people for better governance?
Finally, should not the parliamentary agenda be available a week in advance so that those members who wish to prepare can do so?
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.