By Suzanne Mills
August 09, 2013 – newsday.co.tt
“Madam,” he chided Opposition Whip, Marlene McDonald last Friday as he addressed the opening of Parliament, “I am speaking about conduct!”
“Madam, I am speaking to everyone!” he rebuked her once more as he lectured on about the importance of proper parliamentary conduct, the need for civility, dignity and decorum in Parliament. It was as if he were sitting on the bench, handing down a judgment to parliamentarians and as in a courtroom expected those to whom he was speaking to remain mute. He spoke to her as if she were an accused or one of the children with whom he is regularly photographed?
Why did he not continue his sermon without stopping to reprimand McDonald? McDonald was obliged to clarify that she meant him no disrespect, but was merely making approving sounds. She also explained that when he said that the parliament was no place for theatrics, the Prime Minister pointed at her and then she pointed at Government Whip, Roodal Moonilal, as if to say that he was the one who engaged in theatrics. Where was the disrespect there? And what if McDonald did disagree with him? What if someone had rightly booed when he said that for far too long we have the same faces with the same old philosophies and tired ideas? Would he have had this MP escorted out by the police and carted off to jail?
His comment was an insult to sitting and long serving MPs and to the people who elected them. He on the other hand has not faced the electorate, but was handed his job by these “recycled plastic bottles”, language most unbecoming of a President? Was his selection a tired idea?
McDonald hit the nail on the head when she said that the President must understand the cut and thrust of Parliament. The Westminster system divides the House down the middle and MPs face off as adversaries. Clearly Carmona has never watched sessions of the British parliament (from which we inherited our system) where MPs regularly shout across the floor at each other. Nor does he understand that Parliament is at times by its very nature a theatre.
Criticism must be constructive, he said, a cliché that does not take into consideration that at times criticism must be destructive. What if the Prime Minister were becoming a Hitler? Must MPs on the Opposition benches seek to construct or destruct? In order to build, one must often break down.
There is no doubt that MPs waste time and will oppose for the sake of opposing or that they may seek the party’s interest. However, on many occasions they do co-operate on matters that promote the development, security and upliftment of the society. Recently, both sides worked in harmony on the Dog Control Act and on several occasions Government has accepted recommendations or amendments of the Opposition. However, Carmona did not care to note that there was no consensus, no delicate balance with regard to his appointment.
He said he saw a need to retool the composition of the Independent senatorial bench, as he had observed for years the gaps in that composition. “Where were the detractors in the last three years, when there was no energy expert on the Independent bench, no person who is differently abled, no internationally recognised expert and academic in finance? Where were your men and women of letters?” he questioned, yet at the same time, he observed that university education does not make one honourable and two of the four new senators have a background in law and one a background in oil and gas when we should be exploring green energy.
When he was finished his “retooling” he left the independent bench with only one woman, Helen Drayton. What sector does she represent? Women? Women are not a sector. And why pick on four independents who have served on the bench? Why those four? He has embarrassed them after they have given their best.
This is a president who is consumed by his own power. In his first address he referred to his powers and in this one again the nation had to listen to him crow about what he can do. For example, he spoke of his requirement to act in his own discretion in the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition. He may, he said, in his own judgment seek the counsel of anyone who could be of assistance, but he may also choose not to consult with anyone at all. Section 83 (2) of the Constitution states that the President shall, if the person concerned is willing to be appointed, appoint as Leader of the Opposition the member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of the greatest number of members of the House of Representatives who do not support the Government.
However, does this mean that the President intends to ignore the person that MPs choose to be Opposition Leader, as is the custom? So that if they say that Dr Keith Rowley commands their support, he can select someone else? Is this democracy at work? He also said he could question the legality of some Cabinet decisions, suggesting that he was not bound by these, could issue advice, his office possessing a delay power. His interpretation of the Westminster system is that there must be a delicate balance of power, exercised with care, but he seems to see no need for a delicate balance when it pertains to his office.
“I will not be budged from engaging progressive change nor will I be bullied by those who cannot cope with that change,” he warned. Those are the words of a man who assumes that change brought about by him is always progressive. Who is trying to bully him? Is it bullying or constructive criticism to disagree with him?
Many have hailed this President’s speech but they need to take a deeper look at its constitutional implications. It was a moralistic tongue lashing in which he made it patently clear that he has no regard or respect for the elected representatives of the people or the way they have been conducting the business of the Parliament. He found fault with everything, sought to establish the topic of debate for the local election, his tone that of a superior. In office for mere months, this President assumes that he above all, knows what is best for the nation.