DURING this past week’s edition of ‘In the National Assembly,’ Parliamentarians debated the 2021 National Budget, which was presented earlier in the month by Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for finance, Dr. Ashni Singh. The debate, however, spotlighted a lack of decorum in the Parliament.
It is both understandable and acceptable for the different sides of the house — the government and opposition sides — to have opposing views on the budget. After all, the national budget illustrates the government’s vision, priority areas, and general policy direction, since it points towards what policies, programmes and plans the government intends to use Guyana’s money to fund.
It would be strange for each member to agree on every single thing, since various individuals have different priorities and views and perhaps different sides of the house have different plans, projects, or policies that would guide Guyana’s developments; and, that is completely fine.
It is neither understandable nor remotely acceptable, however, for elected officials, sworn in as Members of Parliament (MPs), to openly hurl insults at each other and make racist, sexist, homophobic remarks. It is not acceptable for this level of disrespect to be entertained in the National Assembly.
The normalisation of racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks in our common, social spaces might be a conversation for another day, but for crying out loud, this is our National Assembly! Or, our Parliament, as it is more commonly called. It is not touting at the bus park!
Imagine the astonishment one would experience, years from now, if they were to revisit the hansards. Instead of only well-articulated, thorough analyses of the $383.1 billion budget that was presented for the year 2021, there would be remarks signalling homophobia or thinly veiled insults of an MP’s reproductive capabilities.
To be fair, however, there were a few salient presentations. On the first day of the debate, it is a point of pride that two women — MPs Susan Rodrigues and Amanza Walton-Desir who are also new Parliamentarians — made good presentations that one would expect at this forum.
Though this absence of decorum from many of the MPs,is perhaps, not a new occurrence in the local context, it begs us to ask ourselves: what valuable contributions are our elected officials making at this forum?
One would hope that the leaders elected by the people of Guyana, whether in government or opposition, would maintain a certain level of decorum in the house. In discharging their duties towards the people of the nation, at the very least, it is expected that they would engage in critical analyses of the budget. The budget debate should attempt to pinpoint deficiencies in allocations, or indicate what other areas of priority should be focused on.
This is how you operate in a democracy, where transparency and accountability are underpinning tenets. This is how you respect the sanctity of Parliament. And above all else, is this how you adequately represent the people of the nation you committed to serve? Parliamentary affairs — every single aspect– should be geared towards enhancing the development of the nation and its citizenry.
Admittedly, clever innuendos and witty remarks have long been part of parliamentary presentations, not only in Guyana, but around the world. The addition of clever satire has its usefulness in communication, no doubt. Much of what we saw last week, however, appeared to be a common bottom house or rumshop debacle, replete with “props” and all, that left much to be desired.
Last December, Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, told the Guyana Chronicle that the Parliament Office would arrange and conduct training sessions for MPs. Training, the clerk said, is essential because Parliamentarians need to learn how to draft questions and motions, deal with standing orders, and, most importantly, need to learn about the duties of a Member of Parliament. This is particularly necessary for those “new faces” in the house.
The recent events have indeed spotlighted the need for training of Parliamentarians so that a semblance of decorum could be maintained in the National Assembly. It is envisioned that such training sessions would also help to guide the officials on proper parliamentary procedures.
But also, these events should force us to reconsider what we expect and accept from our elected officials — all of them– while they discharge their responsibilities towards us. Are they articulating our collective values when they make racist, sexist, homophobic, and other derogatory statements? Are they adequately representing us and our best interests at all times?
I hope we can do better.
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