Governor-General, His Excellency the Most. Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, on May 14 implored parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth, to show respect for the views of others during House sittings, as a demonstration of their commitment to the process of democracy.
“I suggest that as parliamentarians, you view this matter of civility and respectful discourse in parliament as not just a matter of etiquette; it is a matter of respect for our democratic principles,” he said.
The Governor-General was addressing the opening ceremony for the 37th Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) – Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic Region, at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston.
He reminded the politicians present that every person, who sits in parliament, was sent there by the people, is a representative of the people, and has a right to be heard, respectfully. “Any disrespect to them is disrespect to the people, who elected them and disrespect to the system of democracy through which they are there,” he argued.
“The people need to see that their parliamentarians take their business and concerns seriously and that is why you will not brow-beat your opponents, even when you disagree sharply and forcefully. It is because of your respect for the people, who elected them, in their wisdom, why you accord fellow parliamentarians the courtesies which they deserve,” the Governor-General pointed out.
He further argued that when people watch “over-exuberant behaviour” they become further alienated from the parliamentary system of government and young people become cynical of it. “Robust, vibrant, discourse, yes, we expect that; but uncivil behaviour, no,” he stressed.
The Governor-General also contended that more opportunities should be created for civil society groups to make presentations in parliament to encourage greater interaction between citizens and interest groups and legislators, and to influence legislation from the ground up.
“With critical issues such as the economy, justice, security and education weighing on the national agendas, giving civil society greater access to parliament would strengthen trust between the people and their representatives,” he said.
The conference, which runs from May 11 to 18, is being held under the theme: ‘Low Citizen Confidence in Governance: How Can Parliamentarians Build Trust in Caribbean Legislatures?’
Some 100 delegates from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica are in attendance.
Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, Opposition Leader, Hon. Andrew Holness; President of the Senate, Rev. Hon. Stanley Redwood; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Michael Peart; and other members of parliament participated in the opening ceremony.
The conference provides the opportunity for participants to network and exchange ideas about best practices and strategies for improving efficiency and accountability in the parliamentary process.
The CPA, made up of countries of the Commonwealth, seeks to promote the advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance, and to build an informed parliamentary community able to deepen the Commonwealth’s democratic commitment and to further co-operation among its parliaments and legislatures.
This is the second occasion that the conference will be held in Jamaica, as the country hosted the event in 1998.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter