“I must tell you that in 25 years of parliamentary representation that the Parliament of today and the House of today is the most poor-rakey Parliament in the history of Barbados.” – former Prime Minister Owen Arthur addressing a meeting of his St. Peter branch on January 4, 2009 at the Alma Parris Memorial Secondary School.
Some say these words have haunted the current Leader of the Opposition ever since he uttered them nearly four years ago.
They suggested Arthur’s statement was hypocritical and questioned the motive, pointing to his own decreased participation in parliamentary debates in recent years.
But after events on the floor of the House of Assembly on Tuesday, there are others whose retort would now be “he told you so”.
The standard of discussion and conduct within the hallowed walls of the third oldest legislature in the Western Hemisphere has fluctuated over time.
And if we are all honest we would admit its deterioration certainly predates this current session and group of representatives.
Political representation and the necessary related debate between opponents has never been for the faint-hearted.
In Barbados there are numerous examples, some within the last 10 years, of tempers flaring, words said in anger, shouting matches, and members being expelled from sittings after clashes with other members and occasionally the Speaker. Others have stormed out of the chamber on their own.
At different times the perpetrator or victim was either a member of the Government or Opposition of the day, so no one side is blameless.
Similar confrontations in the assemblies of foreign lands have turned into fist fights, but thankfully that has not happened here — at least not within the written or living memory we are aware of, and long may that be so.
We are neither here to condemn nor condone, and we expect and hope that debates in the House will forever be robust.
Few of us are brave enough to even contemplate entering elective politics and therefore those who serve should be commended for the varying degrees of sacrifice they make daily, including intrusions into their family life.
But even when considering all of the previous transgressions, conduct such as the one we heard two days ago in the Lower House, is unworthy of representatives of the people.
Members of Parliament should therefore not be surprised if when the country’s imminent general election is finally called they are confronted with an increasingly cynical electorate, especially the youth.
MPs should remember that with debates broadcast live on radio and video streamed on Parliament’s website, long gone is the time when a presiding officer’s instruction that words be “withdrawn” and “struck from the record” shielded them from public scrutiny and criticism.
But then again, if they are realistic, they should also recognise that today there is, arguably, a majority of Barbadians able to recall what was said in the United States presidential debates weeks ago than what members of either the Lower or Upper Houses debated this week.
That alone is a reality check they should all take note of. Instead of being apparently blissfully complacent, our lawmakers should all remember their roles — to agitate for improvements to the lives of the people who voted for them to be there in the first place.
Not trading intellectual debate for derogatory remarks, not threatening, insulting, and abusing citizens who do not have the privilege to respond, and definitely not using language more suited to the rum shop. Bear in mind that there are some of us who are actually still listening and observing.†