President: Don’t Criticise Parliamentarians

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By Sue-Ann Wayow

UNLESS citizens have walked in the shoes of a parliamentarian, regardless of party preference, they should be less critical of them.

President Christine Kangaloo said on Monday that while some of the cynicism of parliamentarians was certainly earned based on their conduct, their efforts, many of which go unreported and unrecognised should be acknowledged.

As she addressed the Parliament on its Ceremonial Opening of the Fourth Session of the 12th Parliament, President Kangaloo, a former Member of Parliament and President of the Senate, also said she herself will expect some criticisms for mentioning that MPs were human too.

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She said, “I appreciate that I might well be criticised for mounting what might be construed as this robust defence of Parliamentarians. I am not fearful of that. What I am fearful about, is us devolving into a society where cynicism and criticism are our default attitudes about institutions and people who, as flawed as they are, are only there to try to help make our lives better.”

Speaking about her personal experience, President Kangaloo said MPs have been cast by their constituents into many roles from employer to plumber.

She said, “There is often a mistaken belief that the State pays for everything where an MP is concerned or, even worse, that MPs do not earn their keep and have no right to a salary, like everybody else. Truthfully, there is no salary scale that can begin to compensate a member for the emotional and the mental stress that are routinely undergone when he or she tries to do his or her best to serve at the Constituency level.

“When the responsibilities of debating Bills, participating in Joint Select Committees and sitting as Cabinet Ministers, are superimposed upon those of servicing one’s constituency and are mixed in with a dismissive cynicism of even one’s very best efforts, it is a wonder that anybody offers himself for national service by way of Parliamentary duty, at all. 

“This is why I began this address by thanking all who have ever answered the call to Parliamentary service. Until you have tried it on for size, it is far too easy to be cynical about what Parliamentarians do and the sacrifices they are called upon to make.”

At the beginning of her address, the President thanked Speaker of the House Brigid Annisette-George for the invitation to speak and all the Parliamentarians, for their service.

She also thanked the four former independent senators who were replaced for the new parliamentary session and the new ones who will be serving in the Senate for the first time.

President Kangaloo said while the Parliament Channel has done tremendous work in bringing the business of Parliament to the public, the public needed to be more aware and appreciative of the work of Parliament other than its sittings.

Parliament was always at work, way more than what the public may see via the Parliamentary Channel, she said and appreciated more internationally than at home.

President Kangaloo said, “Serving as a Parliamentarian was among the greatest privileges of my life and I don’t imagine that my heart will ever truly abandon this institution that I have come to admire and to respect.”

She listed out five areas which she hopes more emphasis will be placed on in the Parliament.

Topping the list was crime.

She said, “First, I hope that there can be greater collaboration across the aisle, particularly where legislative and other measures designed to help us fight crime, are concerned. The urgency is obvious. The pain and the suffering are unbearable. These alone should drive Parliamentarians to put aside their party rivalries, join hands across the aisle and collaborate on how to stem crime and criminal conduct.”

Secondly, President Kangaloo hopes that there will be more laws to protect and advance culture and the arts particularly ensuring that the steelpan is firmly and irrevocably declared the national instrument.

She also hopes that there will be additional legislation to include persons with disabilities. 

“If we are to become a developed country, we need to have laws that create a more inclusive society,” President Kangaloo said.

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Continuing on legislation, the president is hoping that consideration will be given to treating legislatively with the new realities in the post-Pandemic world of work, such as ‘Working From Home’ and ‘Hybrid Work’. 

President Kangaloo said, “These are not merely passing ‘fads’, which have gone the way of the pandemic – they are what our younger generation is demanding from us, as they insist upon their right to a higher quality work experience.”

The Parliament should also review its Standing Orders to create a committee like the Public Bill Committee in the United Kingdom, which is a committee of the United Kingdom’s Parliament set up to examine the details of particular Bills and report thereon to the Parliament therefore saving Parliamentary time.

And she hopes that Parliament will be able to develop an annual timetable or fixed agenda, which will serve to promote certainty and efficiency by allowing, among other things, for better planning.


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