By Gaston A. Browne
The poor quality of the interventions by opposition members, during the recent debates in the House of Representatives, is cause for grave concern.
Our system is based on representative democracy by which the majority of the electorate in constituencies, elect persons to both represent their concerns and to advance the interests of the nation. Essential to the success of representative democracy is constructive contributions to the important matters that the nation’s parliament must consider.
Neither the National Assembly nor the Senate are political hustings, where regrettably politicians indulge in smear campaigns, pedalling misleading information, and downright lies. Parliament is the forum for responsible and productive contributions to the nation’s affairs. The reckless statements, which pass for political conduct, on the hustings should end when representatives enter the chambers of parliament.
However, it was evident from the statements and behaviour of some of the opposition representatives that they have failed to make the transition from political hustings to parliamentary responsibility. Yet, this transition is necessary if they wish to be seen as capable of being part of a government in the future, and if they are to engage meaningfully and constructively to the nation’s affairs.
Meaningful and constructive engagement does not mean an absence of criticism or disagreement; but it does require thoughtful ideas that are clearly presented and supported by facts and sustainable argument.
That is not the parliamentary diet that the nation was fed by the majority of members of the opposition during the recent debates. Instead, the presentations lacked intellectual rigour, were pedestrian and replete with lies, misinformation and hogwash.
As if they had not transitioned from the deplorable deceptions of their political meetings to the venerable halls of parliament, they unpacked the same lamentable litany of vitriolic, personal attacks and deliberate falsehoods that embodied their political campaigning.
Despite the abundance of information and supporting evidence in the estimates and the budget statement, the majority of the opposition representatives were so blinded by their egos, political ambitions, and, maybe, absence of any real and practical ideas, that they fabricated their own facts and imputed improper motives on ABLP parliamentarians without a scintilla of supporting evidence.
None of this augurs well for their contributions to the nation’s affairs at a time of global turmoil when all hands are needed on deck, and all shoulders are needed at the wheel to navigate the ship of state safely and securely. Nor does it recommend them for positive roles in a government of the future.
Discord and the promotion of unreasoned conflict might pass for techniques in banal political campaigns, but, in parliament where a higher standard is expected, such behaviour reveals either a lack of basic capacity, or a deliberate attempt to undermine the national welfare by malevolent acts of dishonesty, disinformation, and deception.
I recall that while I served on the opposition benches of the National Assembly, there were members – one of them still a member of the Assembly – who sought vigorously to encourage me to engage in dishonourable behaviour to regain power. My retort to those individuals was: I’d rather be an ordinary citizen of a successful country, than to be prime minister of a failed state. I refused to participate in any acts that would harm my country that I loved dearly and hoped one day to lead.
I have heard many lies in the National Assembly. Those lies are not constructive to debate of the nation’s affairs. They are, in themselves, unworthy of a place in parliamentary debate, but when the lies are blatantly entrenched in the consciousness of parliamentary representatives such that they lie shamelessly and irresponsibly, contemptuous of the national good, then we are developing a serious problem in the society.
The resort to blatant lies by representatives either because they are incapable of any higher intellectual standard, or because they have adopted lies as a technique for national disruption, seriously undermines representative democracy and the rule of law in our country. It is a slippery slope to anarchy that would harm the nation and all its people.
There may be no point in appealing to these Opposition politicians to raise the bar of their parliamentary behaviour. But they should be mindful that no society will long tolerate the promotion of discord based on lies, nor will it abide the feckless abandonment of responsibilities by those to whom people entrusted the care of their interest.
Parliament is about attending to the people’s business and not for the pursuit of narrow political ambitions at the expense of the nation’s progress.