WE TRUSTED President Paula-Mae Weekes and she delivered.
Served to MPs just before the lunch break, Ms Weekes’s ceremonial address perfectly captured the mood and gave all food for thought.
Mindful that she was speaking at a historic moment and walking in the footsteps of many presidents before her, Ms Weekes opted for rhetorical flair, putting things squarely in the court of the elected representatives assembled before her.
In a series of probing entreaties, she asked: Can we trust you? Can we trust you to discharge your functions in accordance with your oath? Can we trust you to measure up to the standards required of great office? Can we trust you to listen to what we are saying? Can we trust you to bring your A-game? Can we trust you to put aside narrow partisan interests and work for the benefit of all?
The sitting itself provided some answers.
The House took the unprecedented step of addressing legislative business on the very first day of the 12th Parliament, and the Senate will today consider the same matters. Some presiding officers were elected unopposed. All speakers in the debate offered congratulations to their fellow MPs.
At the same time, though we were promised a session without razzmatazz, there was still some. Mounted police lined up in the midday sun.
There was no agreement on the simple issue of speaking times.
Most unsatisfactorily, MPs took their oath one by one in a protracted process that needlessly delayed the proceedings. They should have taken a collective oath, which surely was a matter of justified parliamentary self-regulation in the extraordinary circumstances.
And with two new covid19 deaths looming over the proceedings, some MPs still seemed rather close together at various points in time. When one speaker in the debate coughed, he nervously assured the House it was not due to illness.
Over all of this, the President’s words hung.
“Either keep your promises or do not make them,” Ms Weekes said bluntly. “Now is the right time to begin keeping those promises.”
We could not agree more.
Too often parliamentarians are only visible at election time. Real representation is required more than ever.
“You are now their power source, as they were yours, 18 days ago,” the President reminded MPs. “The people who exercised their franchise in your favour want to be assured that they will get value for their vote. They want you to listen to, not just hear, what they are saying, understand their hopes and fears, and bring their concerns to this august body.”
It was all good advice.