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EDITORIAL - The big stick mentality of politicians

Published: Saturday | December 21, 2013 Comments 0

Pushed by International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements to pass legislation before year end, local parliamentarians will know what it feels like to work on Christmas Eve. That makes an interesting change because parliamentarians tend to spend less time on the job than other full-time employees.

To be placed before the Parliament on December 24 are two bills: The Civil Service Establishment (General) Order, 2013, and the Civil Service Establishment (General) (Amendment) Order, 2013. Members were forewarned of the possibility of having to sit late December in order to deal with this matter. The question could be asked whether these bills and the subject they aim to address are really the most urgent matters on the legislative agenda at this time.

We would not accuse the IMF of using scare tactics on borrower countries, but the international lender sure knows how to get action. This is partly because borrowers will always try to abide by IMF dictates because they know how much their economic and fiscal future hangs on having a successful relationship with the IMF. Critically, there are those quarterly tests which have to be passed, and the consequences of failure are well documented.

However, for the good of the people whom they serve, Parliament should impose and meet its own legislative deadline without need for the pesky IMF looking over its shoulders. The idea of working to meet a meaningful legislative agenda is vital to the preservation of a just and orderly society since acts of Parliament cover social, economic and political issues.

Urgent work

It should not take nudging from beyond our shores to appreciate that if there is urgent work to be done in the Parliament, that body should be prepared to meet for long hours to clear as many pieces of legislation as required. After all, we have a number of persons in that Duke Street chamber who can be regarded as professional politicians.

However generous, our Parliament cannot be described as having an energetic work culture. Periodic reports indicate that attendance has generally been poor; some have even been described as having chronic absentee records; lethargic lawmakers are often observed lounging in their seats; and many appear to be more interested in their cell phones and tablets than in what is being said in the chamber. It is not surprising, therefore, that although many bills enter the legislative process each year, very few are cleared.

People elect leaders they feel have the commitment and passion to represent their interests. The current behaviour of our parliamentarians debases the solemnity of the Parliament, with the result that many bills are left lagging for years before they are passed. The anti-tobacco legislation, for example, was introduced in 2008 and was only enacted in 2013 with blatant weaknesses, prompting an early review. We are yet to have the Standing Orders changed so that a prime minister may take impromptu questions from members instead of requiring a week's notice.

House leader Phillip Paulwell must recognise that what we have now is something close to a sham Parliament, and if urgent steps are not taken to have a more robust and effective Lower House, at the end of the day, we would have created a sham democracy.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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