EDITORIAL: Major boost for democracy
DEMOCRACY IN THIS country received a significant boost last week and the working of another aspect of our governance is now clearer to the people. The no-confidence motion filed by the Leader of the Opposition was debated within a week of it being cleared as in order by the Speaker.
We commend the Government and Leader of Government business for respecting the tradition of setting aside time for the early debate of such a motion. In some neighbouring countries this is unfortunately not the tradition, and such motions can be delayed due to political shenanigans of which any parliament established under the Westminster system should be thoroughly ashamed.
If the role of the Opposition is to keep the government’s feet to the fire so that the interests of the voters are not compromised then it seems clear that the government, being in control of the parliament by virtue of its superior numbers, should abide by the unwritten rule and allow early debate.
We feel reassured by the developing practice in our own parliament of early debate of such motions and we can only encourage our political parties to seek to embed this wholesome procedure in our parliamentary practice.
That is the main ground for our view that the state of democracy in this country was enhanced during the past week, but the debate also seems to have kindled a renewed interest in the parliamentary process.
Contrary to belief in some quarters, the main purpose of these motions is to force a debate so that the ruling party’s policies may be put under parliamentary scrutiny for the benefit of informing the voting public and educating them on the alleged shortcomings of government’s policies.
Both sides of the Chamber must be praised for what was generally a vigorous debate, in which before a gallery of strangers, as the public is curiously called, and a television audience, allegations and disclosures which affect and touch the public interest were disclosed in language which though muscular hardly ever breached the rules of the House.
The debate was a prime example of criticism given and accountability rendered, since in the main, Ministers whose portfolios were criticised, sought to give an account of their stewardship to the House and to the public.
We hope that the packed gallery suggests a return to the time when there was a deep and continuing interest in the debates in parliament, and we suggest that greater publicity be given to the parliamentary television channel which is available on the Internet, so that greater numbers, including students seeking to enhance their knowledge of our governance, may follow parliamentary debates.
We are satisfied that the exercise yielded fruit. The public concern about our water supply problems is now countered by news that desalination plants are to arrive on the island soon, and growing disquiet about the Cahill gasification project has been allayed with the disclosure that Government is no longer going ahead on the project. Meanwhile, the news of the ten per cent restoration to ministerial and other salaries has acquired a life of its own.
Parliament is a central aspect of our democracy. Throughout the long rule of colonial times, it is the one institution that has been available for peaceful and orderly change. The conduct of the no-confidence motion and the fallout therefrom, reminds us all to respect and build on this important pillar of our democracy.