Ronald Thwaites | A matter of trust
Few, if any, of us in Parliament would disagree that the current slate of bank fees are extortionate and that competition in our marketplace is ineffectual to stimulate their moderation. When self-regulation is spurned, the State has an obligation to act.
The customer code to which Audley Shaw referred as already containing the same elements protecting consumers as Fitz Jackson's bill does, has not offered relief to a single bank user. The rapine, estimated in the billions monthly, will continue until and if some vague strictures are brought forward maybe later this year. Who can rely on that?
After leading the resolve against this most blatant instance of economic injustice, and even after having their own words quoted back to them as they blushed, the members of this Government shamelessly turned turtle and voted down the very mild measures in Jackson's effort.
Every pretext or piece of procedural humbug was trotted out to defeat, albeit barely, legislation that was clearly in the interest of the ordinary citizen. The vote was on class lines. Those who opposed it identified their class interest in protecting the same people and issues that they had railed against up to recently.
"Someone has got to you," Horace Dalley kept chanting what was obvious to all. Money power rules Government.
But while the public will continue to be charged "almost every time they walk into a bank", as one government member conceded to me privately, another huge casualty of this week's parliamentary activity is trust.
If you have power and you can reverse your word as soon as a partisan advantage appears or some special interest prekkeh on you, who can trust what you say next?
And it didn't stop on the banking fees matter, either.
Thursday's formal opening of Parliament attracted little public attention despite the rum money. The judges and diplomats were conspicuously sparse and the gallery much reduced.
We prayed for "Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Charles, Prince of Wales, and the Royal Family" with barely an intercession for our haemorrhaging people and then listened to the most lacklustre and anodyne speech that has ever been handed to poor Sir Patrick. He laboured through the repitition of previously known plans and vague prospects.
In his peroration, the govenor general enjoined us to "fight against any force ... which threatens to block ... our pathway towards prosperity," at which multiple fingers and jeers were directed towards the opposition benches.
So notwithstanding all the platitudes about unity directed at the parliamentarians, it is quite clear who thinks who to be the enemy.
There followed a delighful meal, hosted by the prime minister. There, once again, he spoke warmly and convincingly about the benefits of interparty unity. Hope swelled among the non-tribalists among us who realise that without a high measure of political consensus, there will be no sustained prosperity, except for those whose greed the JLP members had vindicated on Tuesday.
Imagine the shock then when, barely an hour later, the same government members returned to Gordon House with the intent to reverse the convention, introduced by Bruce Golding a decade or so ago, whereby the major committees of the House, the proceedings of which constitute the most effective checks and balance to executive power, would be chaired by an opposition member.
A firm appeal to the prime minister by a resolute Opposition has led to a postponement of the committee appointments for a while. It is to his personal credit that he stood up to his own termagents. But those who have begun to feel the bite of committee interrogation will be back to bolster their autocracy against scrutiny and criticism, even as they bleat about their commitment to partnership and democracy.
Trust, the indispensable foundation of successful governance cannot survive, let alone thrive, in the atmosphere of last week's Parliament. It was not a good start.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.