The Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago has become a place of disregard by Parliamentarians for each other, and this may result in Parliament being further disregarded by the population. Curtailing a Budget debate could not be in the best interest of democracy.
The government has contempt for the Opposition. The Opposition looks upon the government with disdain and resentment. The Speaker is regarded as an ally by the government and by the Opposition as a foe. The Speaker’s interventionist style, ostensibly to ensure order and maintain the Speaker’s control, is often judged to be overdone.
In this environment, the quality of debate has deteriorated completely. The Prime Minister receives little respect from the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is often disrespected by government members. Debates on issues are turned into personal attacks by both sides on individual members on the otherside and, what the public gets, is a sense of market disorder, quelled by authoritarian intervention, leading to nothing of value, and adding little to the public good. And this, outside Parliament, can even get to gross insults. There may be noble intentions but these are not easily discernible.
There is hardly ever agreement on the conduct of business in the House of Representatives. The Leader of Government business and the Chief Whip on the Opposition side may communicate, converse, speak; but the evidence suggests that clear agreements are never reached, or if they are, seldom honoured to the point of mutual satisfaction of both sides. Again, mutual disregard and disrespect.
Parliament, while observing rules, do not give the impression of a place of fair, reasoned combat over the conduct of public business, the scrutiny of the spending of public money nor effective discussion of matters essential to national welfare. There are worse Parliaments in the world, of course, but why would we want to compare ourselves with those?
The essential role of Parliament as the place where the Executive branch of government is held to account, has been weakened. The role of Parliament as an institution where accountability is valued and democratic discourse enlightens and distils clarity seems violated altogether.
In this scenario, the representational politics, expected by constituents is muted, Opposition assertion of its point of view as Opposition and as alternative government is ineffective; and government’s articulation and clarification of policy under scrutiny of, and within the framework of, Executive accountability to Parliament, becomes a concept totally ungrounded in the reality of Trinidad and Tobago politics and governance.
Target audiences remain narrow for both political parties. Party faithful in both cases continue to diminish. Although it is clear that the government is very unpopular and that most people feel they deserve more and can do better. But so is the Opposition unpopular, and disconnected from the feelings and aspirations of people and generally assessed to be unequal to the task at hand. High levels of alienation exist in both parties.
And so the crisis before us is not just Parliament, Government, Opposition, Executive accountability, the conduct of the people’s business and the complete alienation of the people from this entire process. The crisis includes in fact, a crisis of leadership, of the political parties themselves, of political roles and political conduct, a crisis of governance and with the surrounding breakdown of institutions, a full fledged constitutional, political and economic crisis.
The moral, ethical and intellectual crises are that the vast majority of citizens at large do not trust, and have no expectation that either the PNM or the UNC have the desire, disposition, inclination, tools, wherewithal, nor will, to do what is best and right for the country. At the end of the day, what is best for the country is not seen to be aligned with the narrow partisan interest of either party. Self interest rules.
And this is the fundamental conundrum which Trinidad and Tobago must resolve in the absence of a clear alternative to two receding Parties totally alienated from solutions and tragically divorced from the aspirations of our people in a dramatically, uncertain world in which the likelihood of global stagflation and the possibility of a global financial crisis both loom and, in which T&T is still unlikely to be able to feed itself and maintain a good quality of life if the global crisis is prolonged and deepens.