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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: House slacking with drop in meetings

ROY R. MORRIS, [email protected]

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: House slacking with drop in meetings

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“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.”

Those were the words of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur as he addressed a meeting of his then St Peter branch of the Barbados Labour Party on January 4, 2009 at the Alma Parris Memorial Secondary School. For the record, Arthur then was and still is a member of that poor-rakey Parliament.

Today, I wish not to comment on the standard of debate of the House of Assembly, as Arthur did, but the frequency of it. As a journalist I have been attending Parliament since 1980 – that’s more than 35 years – with my very first visit being under the guidance of journalism stalwart, the late Charles Harding. I have witnessed some robust debates.

As an editor for two decades I recalled when Tuesdays (House of Assembly) and Wednesdays (Senate) were big days on our calendar. The best reporters never got those days off and young reporters clamoured for an opportunity to join them for even a short shift at Parliament.

These days when a news editor prepares a roster she has to pay more attention to who she has on duty on Sundays than either of those two days because the meetings are “few and far between”.

I don’t wish to be seen as telling the Government how to conduct its business, but when any organisation is faced with challenges it generally meets more often – rather than less – in order to be always on top of the issues.

I note to that “The Standing Orders of Parliament” appear to suggest that those who framed them intended that Parliament should meet often to discuss the people’s business.

That is why, I believe, the orders state: “The first sitting of every Session shall be on such day and at such hour as His Excellency the Governor-General shall appoint. After the first sitting, unless the House otherwise decides, the House shall meet every Tuesday at 12 o’clock noon, and, unless previously adjourned, shall meet until 9:30 p.m.”

So far this year the House has had 18 sittings – one in January, three in February, three in March, one in April, four in May, two in June, two in July and two in August. The next sitting is scheduled for October 25.

Ten years ago the House met 37 times – two in January, four each in February, March, May and June; five times in October and November; three times in December; and once each in April and August.

For the current House to come close to this number of sitting this year, it would have to keep its October 25 schedule, meet every Tuesday in November, including the day before the 50th anniversary celebrations and December 27, which is a public holiday.

Now consider the number of issues that are crying out for legislative changes and generally for robust public debate and see if you don’t agree with me that we could only be “mekking sport”. Water crisis and Parliament is not meeting; garbage crisis and Parliament is not meeting; financial challenges and Parliament is not meeting; reform of public corporations required and no parliamentary discussion.

What’s your opinion now, Mr Arthur?