Feb 26, 2021 Letters
With reference to your news reports and commentaries on the behaviour of MPs last Monday (KN Feb. 23, 24), the unruly conduct of and vulgarity displayed by members of the National Assembly was much talked about by Guyanese in person. It was shameful and embarrassing. Negative comments were expressed in various other forms of communication. Guyanese who I interacted within Guyana and in the diaspora have unanimously condemned what they label as despicable behaviour of the guilty members of the House. Their behaviour was unbecoming of the label of “Honourable member”. It was obscene. The exchange was inappropriate and unparliamentary. The national and international communities are looking. They are turned off because of what happened Monday. The public took strong exception to such conduct and behaviour that was rule breaking – totally unacceptable.
Parliament was compared with a fish market and a rum shop and an X-rated and R-rated show. One person commented that the members had a good breakfast of “bake and salted fish”; they had five items for breakfast that Burnham had banned and were elated and decided to descend into the gutter. What emanations from that rabble rousing MPs! Popular letter contributor Leyland Roopnarine compare it to an episode of the Jerry Springer show. He commented that he will not be looking at Jerry Springer Show today, a reference to the adult type rude talk show on American TV where anything goes. Instead, he will watch the debate in Guyana’s Parliament for entertainment. Is this how the MPs want to be known?
In my studies in Comparative Politics and extensive readings of international press, there was misbehaviour in several parliaments. But the Speaker in those Chambers quickly put an end to uncouth conduct. The guilty Guyanese MPs behaved dishonourably, descending into the gutter pelting dirt across the aisle. Some members of both sides were guilty. Disruptive, chronic, cross talking, verbal insults, rudeness, defiance, and hostility, attacks on personal lifestyle, family life, and sex preferences, and other innuendoes don’t belong in parliament in this day. Those comment retard the smoothness and effectiveness of the functioning of parliament. It absolutely lowered the esteem and standard of the House. I also observed non-attentiveness, daydreaming, and idleness of members during the presentations – Clearly, most were not listening to presentations. It was a disrespect to members who spent time to prepare notes for their presentations. There was no excuse or justification for such intolerable behaviour.
The Speaker should have intervened very early to stop the abuse. Once the Speaker rose from his seat, as is the established norm, members would have stopped misbehaving. He should have issued a stern warning and instructed the members to discuss the budget, not extraneous matters. If they did not heed his order, he could have discontinued a member’s submission (budget presentation). Those who behaved badly should have been reprimanded, admonished, rebuked. That is standard practice in legislative procedures when Members behaved improperly. They should have been called upon to apologize. Quite frankly, by their behaviour, some of the MPs are unfit to sit in a house. Their contributions added to zero.
It is very disturbing that there is so much polarization and heightened partisanship in the Assembly, a replica of the nation. It appeared that the party leaders, at least in the PPP side, after the first day of debate, because the behavior of the ruling side was more in keeping with the behaviour of a member of an elected chamber. It was good that the Speaker and the leadership intervened to restore the lost dignity of that august house. It would never have happened during the days of Jagan or Burnham when they were PMs. They were sharp and witty in their remarks to disarm hecklers. They should have taken a page from Boysie Ramkarran who also would have used humour to silence opponents, intelligently demeaning the conduct of the other side. Jagan, Boysie, Fenton Ramsahoye and a few others were quite good in their responses to hecklers and in their presentations in the Assembly. They were honourable men who did not descend to gutter like remarks.
Parliament is the highest law making and constitutional body of Guyana. MPs are urged to serve with diligence, humility, and respect. Honourable, they must be. Members must use tasteful language and conduct themselves with decorum in parliament. The Speaker must take more decisive action in managing the behaviour of MPs. He must be prepared to remove unruly members from the House, must enforce code of conduct and discipline both sides.
Members are reminded that serving in parliament is a position of privilege and a model for the rest of society. The nation reposes confidence in electing members to represent them but some of them let us down. Perhaps the time has come for rank choice as potential MPs in elections so that those unfit can be weeded out from a list of potential MPs or some other forms so that misfits don’t sit in the House.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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