'A rude awakening'
POLITICS: no easy ride for first-timers! 2011 general Election Newbies Reflect On First Term in Parliament
Parchment slapped with massive disappointments as he moves from parish councillor to MP
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A few Rapid Response water trucks laboured along the Nain main road heading towards Junction in South East St Elizabeth. The mid-morning sun stood over the constituency, focusing its piercing rays on the parched lands.
This is part of what is popularly regarded as the 'Breadbasket Parish', where people labour, notwithstanding the limited water supply - and produce an abundance of food. A few years ago, bauxite mining at UC Rusal's Alpart plant in Nain provided much of the income for people in this constituency, but with the 2008 recession forcing the closure of the plant, the people have had to seek other forms of living.
"A lot of suffering is happening around here," Member of Parliament (MP) Richard Parchment told The Sunday Gleaner. "South East St Elizabeth is the tale of two cities - you have some affluent areas and you have some areas in abject poverty."
Three years ago, Parchment ventured into political representation at the parliamentary level, stepping up from councillor for the Myersville division in the St Elizabeth Parish Council to MP. His reason for offering himself, he said, was the desire to help his fellowman.
Having taken the plunge, Parchment, a chartered accountant who sits on the government backbenches in Gordon House, said being in politics has been a rude awakening.
"I have achieved some things, but I have had some massive disappointments in terms of getting things done. You come in Parliament as an exuberant MP feeling that you could move Don Figueroa Mountain from Manchester and take it to St Elizabeth, but when the reality hits you is another thing," Parchment said.
TIED UP IN RED TAPE
The chief reason for his distress is the current procurement system, which Horace Dalley, the minister responsible for the public service, has described as an impediment to growth. In St Elizabeth, for example, Parchment said the procurement process has clogged efforts to have the Essex Valley water system deliver on its potential to his people.
"The National Water Commission serves less than 20 per cent of the constituency, but there was this plan about 15 years now to put in the Essex Valley water system, primarily to bring potable water to the bauxite-mining communities.
"South East St Elizabeth has developed water-harvesting systems over the years, but in the bauxite-mining areas, you could not have developed that because the emission from the plant contaminates the water that is harvested," said Parchment.
The MP fumed at the fact that the project has not matured to the extent that residents could get a drop of water, and seemed mindful that the voters could weigh him on that count when they vote in the next general election.
"We have been able to restart that project recently, but I am hoping that before we face the electorate in the next election, I am hoping that water will be flowing though those pipes. This has been one of my promises to the people, and this is something that occupies my time most of the times," said Parchment.
But even as he presses to have the Essex Valley supply become a reality, Parchment said his tenure so far has seen piped water reaching the town of Junction for the first time, at last. He also said that several community catchment tanks have been repaired under the water ministry's Tank and Pump Programme, and that in some instances, standpipes have been put in to allow residents to access water.
"Those are temporary measures, but I understand the fiscal reality, and no matter how much I represent the people on those issues, we are not going to get potable water going though all our communities any time soon based on our terrain," conceded Parchment, who is also a businessman involved in the rental and sale of motor cars.
Even as he deals with the pressures of getting water to South East St Elizabeth - both for domestic and irrigation purposes - Parchment said the areas of mining and energy are of paramount importance.
He said he has also had to be focusing a lot of scare resources on human-capital development, supporting health care and education, and providing assistance to farmers with equipment and fertiliser.
TOLL ON PERSONAL LIFE
But how has being in Parliament opened Parchment's eyes to the realities of the governance process, and what have been the implications on his personal life?
"Thank God, I have a supporting and understanding wife and also three understanding children. Before I became a member of parliament, I was always at home. Becoming a member of parliament significantly takes that aspect out of your life that you don't have enough interaction time with your family. That has been the greatest impact on me," the first-time MP said.
"Second, as a member of parliament, financially, it has affected me. On a Tuesday is Parliament, on a Wednesday is Parliament, on a Thursday is Parliament, Friday is constituency day, Saturday and Sundays are funerals … . the only time I spend in my business now is probably half day on a Monday," he said.
"As member of parliament, you get a work that cannot run your life. I get $250,000 per month. I have a daughter who is doing law, that's $2 million per year; I have two sons - one in high school, one in prep school. What I make as a member of parliament can't even send the children to school, and your business otherwise is significantly affected," declared Parchment.
Despite the low financial rewards, the St Elizabeth native says he feels a sense of achievement and believes he can contribute to the advancement of his people from the office of MP. He said that if the people will have him again, he is prepared to offer himself for a second term.
"I, as a member of parliament, have had to significantly readjust my life down. In terms of the things that I used to do, I can't do them anymore. I don't have the money as a member of parliament. But there is an intrinsic value that you get from being a member of parliament and being of service to the people," Parchment said.
That intrinsic value, he said, comes in the form of joy when he is able to assist the less fortunate to own their own homes or to send their children to school and watch them excel.
"We repaired a road in Reich; it was so bad the water truck could not go there to deliver water. So even though the people had money to purchase the water, they had to travel miles to get a pan of water because the truck couldn't even go up there. When you could make representation and get that road repaired and see water trucks running in and servicing the community, that is great joy," Parchment said.
"It is not about money, it is about offering service to your community. If people of certain calibre don't rise up and offer themselves as members of parliament, you are going to have people who don't have the requisite training, skills and commitment to manage the country's affairs."