Written By Nadine Sanchara
IN order to ensure that the 16th Biennial Regional Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) was not “just another talk shop”, the association has formally adopted three resolutions which will hold it accountable to the decisions made.
This was disclosed during a media briefing at the Public Buildings on Brickdam, Georgetown yesterday, which was held jointly by Speakers of the National Assemblies of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, Mr. Raphael Trotman, Mr. Wade Mark and Mr. Michael Carrington, respectively.
The curtains came down on the conference on Wednesday which was held from Monday, October 28 at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC) at Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown under the theme “The role of parliaments as they meet the challenges of evolving democracies.”
Speaker of the House of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Wade Mark, who moved two of the three resolutions adopted, advised that the first of the resolutions was for the establishment of an Executive Steering Committee of the biennial conference.
BERMUDA IN 2015
This committee, he said, would be comprised of a number of presiding officers and other members who would serve as the body to coordinate activities between conferences. He noted that the next conference will be held in Bermuda in 2015 and the Speaker of the Parliament of Bermuda will be the Chair of the Executive Steering Committee for that conference.
The second resolution, Mark advised, represented some very important initiatives that the CPA has taken as a regional body, the first of which was for the establishment of a regional youth parliament.
“Just as how we meet in conference we would like the Caribbean youths or the regional young persons to also meet and deliberate on matters. So it’s a matter and an issue that we have agreed to pursue between now and the next conference,” he stated.
Another initiative which was unanimously supported was the establishment of Parliamentary Outreach Programmes in each branch. Mark stated that these programmes will focus on educating youths of the Region, noting that this “Region” includes the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic.
“Parliamentarians are not held in high esteem in many countries…and there is a kind of cynicism among young people and adults as it relates to how they view parliament and parliamentarians, and so we have taken the initiative to reach out to the young people through this outreach programme where we intend to visit schools in our respective territories and bring to the attention of the young people the importance of parliamentary democracy, because they are the future and they need to understand how parliament works,” he asserted.
Mark stressed that without parliament there will be no democracy in any country. “The bastion of democracy lies in the legislature, in the parliament, so we have a responsibility to imbue into their consciousness the importance of parliament as an institution.”
Regional Parliamentary Week
The other initiative under this resolution is to initiate a Regional Parliamentary Week at the national level where the parliaments will showcase their work to the country and its citizenry.
“All that is in keeping with advancing the consciousness of the citizenry as it relates to the significance and the importance of our parliament as a very powerful institution for the sustenance of democracy in our countries,” he said.
In addition, the Trinidadian Speaker said that while it was not on the agenda formally, the delegates of the conference did consider the “twinning” of parliaments where delegations from one parliament led by a Speaker can visit another to learn and exchange ideas and knowledge.
The final resolution, which was moved by the President of the Senate of the Parliament of Jamaica, Mr. Floyd Morris, was to address the issue of physically-challenged Members of Parliament and members of the public as well, by having member branches pledge to encourage their governments to ratify the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Moreover, it also resolves that the Speakers and Presiding Officers use their offices to make the services of parliament more inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.
Mark related that the member branches of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Region of the CPA will pursue these resolutions between now and the next biennial conference, and further that they will be reporting at that congress on the progress made.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the National Assembly of Guyana, Raphael Trotman noted that the adoption of the three resolutions was a first for the conference and this was done so that member branches will be held to account accordingly.
He noted that each territory has a CPA branch which has committed to implementing those resolutions and which will be required to give a full report on the progress.
“This is a first because in the past, conferences ended just with good remarks and pledges to continue the agendas and the discussions that we started but we thought it was important to have three resolutions passed….” he said.
Trotman noted that 12 countries sent delegations of Speakers or Presidents of Senate to the conference and the meetings were productive.
He related that a wide range of topics was discussed, noting that papers were presented on the role of the Speaker in changing parliaments because “as societies adapt, we recognize that our parliaments, even as you hold to certain traditions, also have to adapt to meet the changes in our societies without compromising standards.”
He added that the issue of whether or not resolutions have the force of law was examined and that it was unanimous among all present, Speakers, Presidents of Senate and Clerks, that unless a resolution emanates from an Act of Parliament, it does not have the force of law.
The Speaker related that the delegates of the conference also looked at ways in which at the inter-parliamentary level, they could broaden and deepen the relationships amongst the parliaments.
He pointed out that the delegates were also treated to a dinner jointly hosted by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and Leader of the Opposition David Granger. In addition, they also enjoyed a tour of the Essequibo and Mazaruni Rivers on Wednesday.
Noting that the 17th Biennial Conference will be held in Bermuda in 2015, Trotman revealed that Trinidad and Tobago has expressed interest in hosting the 18th conference in 2017.
Speaker of the Barbados National Assembly, Mr. Michael Carrington highlighted some of the major issues which emanated from the conference.
The first one, he said, was the recognition that the Standing Orders or rules which guide the procedures of the House are, to some extent, inadequate and in need of amendments.
“We have been working as individual assemblies, because the whole idea is to keep changing to keep abreast of the changes in the society,” he said.
Carrington also pointed out that parliaments need to continually incorporate the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in their processes to improve the services they render to various members of the legislatures, as well as how they interface with the public.
Moreover, he related that the need to constantly try to bridge what appears to be a widening gap between the legislature and the public was also a main point in meetings.
Meanwhile, both Carrington and Mark expressed appreciation and praised the Guyana branch of the CPA for successfully hosting the conference.