With­out a com­mon cause

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ron­ald Th­waites Ron­ald Th­waites is mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Cen­tral Kingston and op­po­si­tion spokesman on ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

“THERE is an en­vi­ron­ment of hos­til­ity here to­day,” be­wailed be­wigged Speaker Pear­nel Charles in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives last Wed­nes­day. “What has happened to you to­day?” he com­plained as the un­con­trol­lable deci­bels from Des­mond McKen­zie and Ever­ald Warm­ing­ton, later Ed­mund Bartlett and, al­ways, Del­roy Chuck, rose in re­sponse to the ob­jec­tions of the Op­po­si­tion to the lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­form bill.

“Gweh, you a cow tief,” was the taunt from one full min­is­ter of gov­ern­ment to an op­po­si­tion mem­ber, both sworn to up­hold the dig­nity of Par­lia­ment and be called ‘Hon­ourable’ (“Here is not a Sun­day school, yu know!”). “Shut yu mout, re­mem­ber you and the likkle un­der­age school­girl,” was the ri­poste to an­other.

Mer­ci­fully, no schoolchil­dren had paid scarce money to come to be im­pressed by the na­tion’s leg­is­la­ture that af­ter­noon, but then, the whole bur­lesque was be­ing played out on pub­lic tele­vi­sion. In­deed, no Sun­day school here.

TRA­DI­TION OF RE­FER­RAL

No com­mon cause ei­ther. For what but rank political op­por­tunism could have in­spired mem­bers of the Gov­ern­ment (for it will turn out that not all were ap­prised of what was go­ing on) to try to force through a clas­sic piece of ger­ry­man­der­ing, mind­less of the de­cency of al­low­ing time for con­sid­er­a­tion by Op­po­si­tion and af­fected pop­u­lace, let alone the im­por­tant tra­di­tion of re­fer­ral of all such mat­ters to the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of Ja­maica.

And then we lie to our­selves about part­ner­ship and a true bal­ance of power in Par­lia­ment.

So it took un­end­ing bed­lam, raised the speaker’s blood pres­sure and other things till he took a stand, not to men­tion that with a few strag­glers hav­ing been sum­moned, the bill could have been de­feated, for Pear­nel Charles, in a mo­ment of wis­dom, to sus­pend pro­ceed­ings for the ob­vi­ous face-sav­ing com­pro­mise to be crafted.

What ag­gra­vated some of us the more was that be­tween Tues­day’s and Wed­nes­day’s sit­tings, the Or­der Pa­per, the of­fi­cial record of par­lia­men­tary busi­ness, had been fal­si­fied to in­di­cate that the said con­tro­ver­sial lo­cal gov­ern­ment bill had been laid by Min­is­ter Mon­tague (strangely not by the pro­poser, the min­is­ter of lo­cal gov­ern­ment) and, there­fore, would be el­i­gi­ble for de­bate the next day. Who would have an in­ter­est in do­ing that?

The mo­ment of ac­knowl­edge­ment and shame came grudg­ingly from House Leader Der­rick Smith only af­ter Phillip Paulwell’s un­re­lent­ing in­sis­tence that no such in­tro­duc­tion of the bill had taken place, and Hansard con­firmed this.

But who did it? The finger was pointed at the staff of the House, but I won­der ... .

HASTY RE­FER­RAL

Then there was the is­sue of the hasty and un­tidy re­fer­ral of the said bill to the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion overnight Tues­day to Wed­nes­day for them to ex­press an opin­ion. Pre­dictably and cor­rectly, they wrote back to the House leader declar­ing that the bill was not ready and fur­ther con­sul­ta­tion was needed. So why was this not heeded and the whole fetid cha­rade of the Wed­nes­day sit­ting avoided? Two of the min­is­ters with whom I spoke had not even been made aware of that let­ter when the orgy of self-im­posed em­bar­rass­ment took place. How come?

For democ­racy to work, there have to be strong el­e­ments of com­mon cause. Tricks, de­ceit and one-up­man­ship de­mean the process and fur­ther re­duce the al­ready de­val­ued con­fi­dence of the peo­ple in their lead­ers.

And all this for an ad­van­tage in lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions in which nei­ther side has laid out clearly what are their ob­jec­tives and tar­gets for mu­nic­i­pal ser­vice. Hours of wran­gling but not one word about how to im­prove the lives and con­di­tions of the peo­ple of Port­more and Greater St Cather­ine con­cern­ing whom this was sup­posed to be all about.

I know we can do bet­ter.

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