Sun | Dec 15, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Stop the pretence

Published:Monday | November 18, 2019 | 12:25 AM
Douglas Vaz (left) is seen here with his son, Daryl, in February 19, 2010.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Daryl Vaz offered a restrained and affective response to the many tributes offered and expressions of sympathy proffered to Ann-Marie, himself and others in the Vaz and Stewart families on the passing of two late representatives, Douglas Vaz and Wendell Stewart. Some 10 sitting and former House members have died during this year.

Daryl, in a moment of intense personal grief, called on all of us, himself included, to recover a spirit of camaraderie among MPs of different sides; to revive and incarnate the nationalist spirit which he, and others, correctly attributed to both recently deceased gentlemen. If it takes loss and grief to bring us to our senses, so be it.

Then came something startling from the minister. He expressed the no doubt informed opinion that the families of most if not all of the 10 deceased members would have had difficulty affording their health and funeral expenses due to the decline of their personal affairs while serving, and the inadequacy of their pensions.

Writing on the subject last September, I neglected to include the similar plight of superior judges who, like parliamentarians, have no health benefits following retirement and whose pensions are savagely eroded by depreciation and inflation. So far, governments, which have become hostages to popular contempt, have failed to review these conditions.

That similar injustice which can be asserted by all public-sector workers, cannot justify failure to improve the conditions of those whose efforts have been especially demanding on their personal resources and those who, by convention, cannot ply their profession after serving on the judicial Bench.

There is a motion on the Order Paper which seeks better health benefits, salaries and pensions for parliamentarians, which is to be debated before the end of this month. Who will support it? And which others will defy justice and equity, hide their own needs, feign pretence and take bush, oppose or put off to avoid public backlash?

UNWILLING TO TAKE BOLD STEPS

The unwillingness to take bold steps is also evident in the dawdling of government to mandate that the names of both parents be included on every Jamaican’s birth certificate. In answer to my questions in this Parenting Month, Dr Christopher Tufton reports that the draft legislation is now in the hydra-headed ministry led by the prime minister, and is now ­awaiting the comments of the attorney general. It is clear that after 25 years of advocacy, and despite the support of some ­ministers, no one really is in a hurry to get it done, even as the social fabric deteriorates rapidly.

The same is true regarding comprehensive tobacco control legislation. The 2017 Survey of Living Conditions indicates that close to 17 per cent of our population are killing us and themselves by smoking, while we can’t get around to passing a law which would minimise this.

A perfectly acceptable bill, which is now law in Trinidad, was offered as an easy template for us to follow. Years have passed. We pretend to be serious about wellness and public health, but while other countries are far advanced in planning to ban tobacco use, we are hitching about getting a mild law in place to reduce private suffering and public expense.

There is so much more we could do to make things better if we stopped letting ourselves be fooled in to believing the pretence that propaganda announcements are real achievements.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and a former minister of education. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.