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Caribbean parliaments should create, export precedents

Inside the Chamber of the National Assembly, Parliament Building where delegates of the 16th Biennial Regional Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will be touring. They are here from October 26 to 31.

Guyana’s House Speaker, Raphael Trotman on Monday urged Commonwealth Caribbean parliamentarians to start creating precedents rather than just importing those that have been created in Developed and larger member nations.

He was at the time addressing the opening of the 16th biennial regional conference of presiding officers and clerks of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Caribbean Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

Trotman queried what distinctive brand or flavour have Caribbean parliaments added to the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy.

A practising lawyer, the Guyanese House Speaker suggested that the meeting consider ways of defining its contributions to the wider Commonwealth rather than always seeking to be importers.  “The time is well nigh when we must begin to draw closer to each other and fashion our own stream of parliamentarianism,” he said.

In many instances, parliaments in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean rely on rules, procedures and precedents from the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Australia and other Commonwealth countries in making decisions especially in difficult times.

The House Speaker queried whether the Caribbean must remain “wedded and welded” to the Westminster model rather than explore new innovations near and far. An example, he cited, was Finland’s Committee of the Future. He challenged MPs to explore ways of using technology as a bridge and tool to deliver better governance and representation rather than regard it as a hindrance.

The CPA delegates were warned against conferences like this one becoming a talk-shop rather than ensuring continuity and certainty.

“Unless we are careful, we will be doing ourselves the parliaments we preside over and the people those parliaments represent a disservice if we do not move either immediately or very shortly in the near future to have a more structured discussion that ensures continuity, certainty and definition to our meetings,” he said.

Meeting to merely “talk through” interesting topics and issues without more, he said, would amount to only “playing” parliament and conferences. “Are we growing too complacent and compliant and squandering an opportunity to craft something last different and permanent,” he said.

Threat to Democracy

President Donald Ramotar, in his feature address, cautioned that opposing projects that would benefit all Guyanese could eventually backfire and lose the will to protect and defend democracy. “We should not take actions that would harm a country on the ground that it may help us politically. The danger is if people do not see or feel that things are changing for the better in their lives, they could become disillusioned with democracy,” he said.

Ramotar’s comment comes against the background of Guyana’s combined opposition blocking several major infrastructural projects- Amaila Falls Hydropower project, expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Specialty Hospital and the Marriott Hotel.

Threats to Security

Guyana’s Opposition Leader, David Granger touched on the various threats over the decades that have beset the Caribbean. They included invasions, insurrections, interventions, international and domestic terrorism, mutiny, maritime disputes and territorial claims. He urged colleague Caribbean MPs to address their minds to new threats such as gun running, money laundering, narcotics trafficking and illegal migration because their countries’ small size make them more vulnerable. “These are some of the challenges of evolving democracies. These are some of the challenges which members of the National Assemblies and parliaments face,” he said. He urged his colleagues to devise responses aimed at protecting protect people’s liberties and strengthening democratic governance and national security. “We wish that your deliberations will contribute to devising practical responses to these challenges. We can do much to give the citizens the ‘good life’ to which they are entitled,” he added.

The conference aims to explore the key features of an effective parliament in order to enhance the capacity and effectiveness of the Presiding Officers and Clerks; maintain, foster and encourage impartiality and fairness on the part of the Presiding officers and clerks of various parliaments; promote professional development, knowledge and understanding of parliamentary democracy in its various forms; and strengthen the independence of parliaments.

The meetings are being attended by delegates from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, and the host country Guyana.

In addition to the two days of plenary sessions, the delegates will be treated to a luncheon to be hosted jointly by the Speaker and Clerk and Speaker of the National Assembly, a dinner to be hosted by the prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and a cocktail reception to be hosted by the President.

The conference which was first held in 1969 brings together the Presiding Officers and Clerks of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Regions. The conference operates on a two year cycle.