Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Opposition in the Opposition

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
December 30, 2007

One of the most disgraceful, disgusting, shameless and tasteless spectacles on TnT's political landscape was the puerile behavior by putative mature, adult, elected and non-elected UNC-A parliamentarians at the recent opening of Parliament on 17 December, 2007.

If that was the public behavior of educated adults then it need occasion no great surprise that the uneducated, immature young people in TnT behave in a similar disrespectful fashion: "Monkey see, monkey do."

In other words, adult, mature, educated parliamentarians cannot expect to publicly display total disrespect towards each other and then expect young, immature, uneducated Trinbagonians to display total respect towards each other and authority at home and at school. Life just does not work that way in the real world.

Like charity, respect also begins at home; it must, therefore, begin in the People's Home: parliament. A lawless parliament cannot expect to breed a lawful, law-abiding citizenry.

In other words, by this single, public act of electoral desperation, the UNC-A politicians have become the perpetrators of parliamentary violence.

Ergo, TnT now has a new category of violence, viz, parliamentary violence initiated, ossified and perpetuated by both elected and nominated PNM and UNC-A parliamentarians.

Truth Be Told: This beloved Republic of TnT is no longer a "Sinking ship"; on the contrary, it has now been transformed into a totally marooned Sunken ship a la UNC-A.

And furthermore, the trivial, deformed notion that Patrick Manning-PNM's previous snubbing of elected UNC House Speaker Rupert Griffith in 2001 has been advanced in order to validate the UNC-A's inappropriate, disrespectful parliamentary antics only speaks volumes as to the infantile "tit-for-tat" nature of political immaturity in TnT.

The fact of the matter is that as adults, Trinbagonians are aware of the universally accepted adage/truism: " Two wrongs do not make a right." The action by the UNC-A parliamentarians, therefore, begs the following poignant questions: Where is the mature, adult decision-making process among these elected/nominated parliamentarians?; Have We the People elected a Kiddies Parliament?; Are the opposition members of Parliament thinking about the macro good of the country or are they so subsumed/overdosed by micro, myopic, vendetta revenge politics?

If this "bad-john-like" modus operandi is the new genre of politics by the UNC-A, then, this electoral entity would have taken gutter parliamentary politics to a new, ominous level. The fact of the matter is that the citizens of TnT are crying out very loud and clear, 24-7-365, that they want parliamentary proceedings to reflect the "good-ole-days" of debates between Lionel Seukeran ("Mr. Speaker, Sir") and Dr. Eric Williams. These two astute politicians brought the highest degree of professionalism, intellectualism, objectivity and decorum to parliamentary debates. However, most importantly, they interjected the highest degree of personal respect into their debates.

Today, parliamentary debates seem to have gone way past the nadir of the respect barrel.

The stark reality is that in this inherited British, Euro-centric Westminster system of government, the sane role of the opposition is to conduct itself and perform duties as the alternate/shadow government. The sole purpose of the opposition is not just to oppose the government. That's parliamentary insanity at its zenith a la UNC-A.

Instead of conducting themselves as respectful/responsible members of the loyal opposition, the UNC-A members came to the opening of Parliament fuming with all guns blazing.

For example, Chief Opposition Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj vociferously declared that "It is a war," as in 'Jihad', while Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday publicly vowed not to co-operate with anything the ruling government puts on the parliamentary table.

Indeed, all these childish political tantrums were within the context of the UNC-A's total disrespect of the House Speaker Barry Sinanan and Prime Minister Patrick Manning coterminous with Basdeo Panday's faint, quasi-imitation of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez United Nations "presence of the devil" snub of United States President George Bush, Jr. Let it be very, very, very clear: Basdeo Panday is no Hugo Chavez and Patrick Manning is no George Bush, period.

How can mature, educated, publicly-elected officials /adults behave so silly in public?

To all intent and purposes, it seems obvious that in 2007, the UNC-A is functioning under the outdated, archaic 1887 rule of thumb which postulated that, "The duty of an opposition is to propose nothing, to oppose everything and to turn out the government."

However, times and parliamentary thought-processes have changed over the years and have now become more modernized. Ipso facto, the new role of the opposition in government is elucidated by Dr. Don Brash, leader of the National Party of New Zealand (2007), as follows:

"...the opposition represents an alternative government and is responsible for challenging the policies of the government and producing different policies where appropriate. There are occasions when the Opposition agrees with the government; if the solution proposed by the government has wide support and is soundly based, then, it's only natural for the Opposition to agree. (No responsible Opposition openly declares 'war' on the government before any Parliament begins its deliberations)."

This updated parliamentary role of the Opposition in government is corroborated by Member of Parliament for Lake Centre, Saskatchewan, Canada, John G. Diefenbaker (1949) thus:

"The Opposition cannot oppose without reason. Its alternative policies must be responsible and practicable for it has a responsibility to the (President of the Republic of TnT) to provide the alternative government to the one in power."

Indeed, one can only conclude that the UNC-A's recent unscrupulous behaviour lends fulcrum to the credence/notion that it is definitely neither ready nor fit "...to provide the alternative government to the one in power."

The UNC-A is just too "full of it", namely, post 5th November electoral sour grapes that are now rotten to the core and emitting an awful stench.

The fact of the matter is that the UNC-A's public behavior also brings to the fore the sad tragedy that there is no alternative to the PNM. It is a sad tragedy not for the UNC-A, per se, but for the country as a whole. We the People want a loyal opposition. We the People do not want a threatening, warlike disrespecting opposition. The UNC-A must realize that the loyal opposition also has a responsibility to represent We the People of this country.

The UNC-A must realize that if it continues with its obstructionist, cantankerous, belligerent, fatalistic parliamentary posture, it will be playing directly into the waiting hands and arms of the PNM. In this scenario, the majority of the voting citizens of TnT will continue "stepping up with" Patrick Manning and the PNM, while the UNC-A will remain decked-out in the swaddling clothes of the "bad-john" opposition, ad infinitum.

In the final analysis, if the UNC-A continues its arrogance of electoral defeatism in Parliament, it will certainly be the moribund political corpse for the next five years.

The UNC-A must decide whether it wants to be part of the solution to the intractable multi-faceted and multi-dimensional problems that are currently afflicting/impacting/affecting/hemorrhaging TnT or whether it wants to be seen/viewed/perceived/demoted as the ultimate problem.

Truth Be Told: The UNC-A leadership must be cognizant of the apocalyptic adage that admonishes: "The evil that men do live on after them while their good is interned with their bones." In the specific case of the UNC-A, the parliamentary evil violence that its members committed in November 2007 will live on after them for the next five years while whatever national good they would have done will be interned with their simplistic, unconscionable parliamentary "chupidness."

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.

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