BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday July 29, 2014, CMC – Opposition leader Mia Mottley has called for parliamentary reform throughout the region, as members of the Caribbean, Americas and the Atlantic region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association opened their 39th regional conference here Monday.
Mottley told the gathering there is need for change, as the same topics are being discussed at successive conferences.
“It begs the question how did we get here? How do those who have responsibility for the passage of laws, for the governance of the country… find themselves in a situation where the same things are said year after year after year,” she said.
Mottley said unless parliamentarians recognize the need for urgent reform “particularly in the Caribbean Commonwealth departments, and treat it as a regional project, we will meet five years hence, ten years hence, and be saying the same thing yet again.”
She added that while parliamentarians create the forum for debate and shared perspectives, the majority of the population does not understand or think about what laws are passed until months after when the laws impact them.
“And therefore those of us who sit in parliament sometimes believe that silence is consent until the impact hits the population as we have seen recently here,” she said, referring to recent protests against the newly implemented controversial Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
The former attorney general called for more engagement of the public, stating that “the interest in the business of legislatures has declined substantially”.
“And it’s largely because we live in a world that is driven by the ease of access to information particularly through technology, and which is no longer governed by broadcasting but indeed by narrowcasting.
“It means that the role and structure of our parliaments cannot be rooted in 18th or 19th century existence and we do not have to wait for the mother of our parliaments to make those defining changes, we must do it in respect of what is relevant to our own society in terms of our values and culture and the behavior of our population,” Mottley said.
She argued that the use of social media cannot be restricted simply to broadcasting speeches that were made in parliament.
“How do we take the views of the population, not only in terms of what is ready or put out virtually, but on specific topics inform debate in the same way that extensive committee hearings ought to be taking place and capturing those views.”
Mottley added there are a number of other areas that need attention in the region’s parliaments, including campaign finance reform and the balance of power.
“How do we equally ensure that we remove from our structure, a parliament that affectively is constrained by the executive because the size of our parliament has in fact led to the cabinet and the front bench being the dominant force, such that the parliament cannot be an effective check on the balance of power.
“How can we treat to the issue of campaign finance reform and the lack of confidence that our populations have in what we say and what we do,” she said.
She noted such “difficult and vexatious issues” cannot be treated only at the national level, but necessitate a region-wide approach.
“What is required is a mechanism that allows us to treat the reform of our parliamentary system in the Commonwealth Caribbean in particular, as a regional project with a defined outcome, recognizing that even for those of us who belong to CARICOM, we have a conflict of systems, for the Caribbean Community is premised on the development of consensus on the way forward but the national parliaments depend on an adversarial Westminster structure,” Mottley noted.
Meanwhile acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy told participants this year’s talks are even more relevant given the economic challenges facing the region.
“This annual conference of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, is important not only because it gives delegates a chance to review the pressing new economic needs of the member states and the new opportunities that are being presented, but also because it allows us to review the persistent political and social challenges that have to be resolved if we are going to pull ourselves out of this devastating recession,” he said.
The conference ends on Saturday.