April 15, 2004
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In every former colonial country inherited institutions have been under pressure to adapt in one way or another, and new institutions have sprung up. That is hardly surprising. Yet one looked at the Speaker in his chair, fully cognisant of the Standing Orders and familiar with May's Parliamentary Practice, an august presence, one looked at the full government benches with the ministers and the backbenchers (Minister Jeffrey arrived late) and the opposition representatives Ms Sheila Holder (GAP/WPA) and Mr Ravi Dev (ROAR) both looking quite dignified in their solitude. It was in some ways quite moving. The panoply of a parliament is in place, the level of the debate may leave something to be desired and there is too much use of notes (we have not yet had our Disraeli or our Burke) but some work has been done, there is something there that it is essential to preserve, a structure for national debate, for give and take and compromise. The recent constitutional amendments and the creation of new committees with extensive powers create the possibility for strengthening and developing this institution.
Parliament is a symbol of rational, democratic government. The development here and elsewhere of mass political parties and parliamentary whips has, of course, led to often predictable outcomes. Yet if bills go through committees where there is some give and take and opposition inputs are taken account of the process is useful and valid and potentially the basis for good government. But the work has got to be done, which is often not the case, in which case it can lose relevance and interest. The level of debate is partly a reflection of the lack of research and other facilities. Laws are passed and never implemented because the human and other infrastructure is not in place (the Companies Act, The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and the Domestic Violence Act are three well-known examples). Laws have been pushed by the international financial institutions and the donors which are sometimes inappropriate. There is a long road to be travelled. But the first step has been taken.