HOPE SPEECH: President Paula-Mae Weekes speaks in the House of Representatives chamber during a joint sitting of both houses on Monday. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –
PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes says this country desperately needs an injection of new hope.
Addressing the ceremonial opening of the third session of the 12th Parliament on Monday, at a joint sitting of both Houses in the Red House, she urged all MPs to unite in order to give this new hope.
“Trinidad and Tobago is just now coming up for air after two long years of a stifling pandemic which crushed the hopes and plans of many, and has shaken our economy to its core.
“As we grapple with the ever-present ills of crime and criminality, racism, unemployment, environmental disaster and recently, in the public eye, child abuse, there is a desperate need for some assurance that things will get better, and people are entitled to demand more of their representatives,” she said.
Recalling the upbeat mood as TT celebrated its diamond jubilee on August 31, the President added, “The common themes of hope, jubilation and national pride contained in those (Independence Day) messages were mirrored in the national mood as people enjoyed and participated in the programme of events.”
The guard of honour outside the Red House on Monday, during the ceremonial opening of the new parliamentary term. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –
Weekes said anniversaries are times for reflection, celebration and forging new paths.
“In this our 61st year, it is time to inject some confidence and optimism into our population, not by mere words, but by action.”
A NEW BEGINNING
She viewed the new session of Parliament as offering the chance for a new beginning.
“It is a golden opportunity to offer to our nation, perhaps as an independence gift, fresh perspectives, attitudes and behaviours as you endeavour to fulfil the oaths you took upon assuming duties as parliamentarians. Why not use this new session of Parliament to present an alternative to a regrettable status quo?
“Resolve to put behind petty squabbles and divisions and work together for the benefit of all,” she advised MPs who all sat stony-faced in the chamber.
Weekes said while TT was a young nation, it could have a mature approach in making decisions which affect people’s lives.
“I am by no means suggesting that we don rose-tinted spectacles and pretend our problems do not exist.
“I am merely advocating a different approach – a collaborative effort by members of these noble Houses.
“Whether in government, opposition or as an independent, as a parliamentarian, your duty is to represent the citizens’ interests, to pass laws, and monitor actions of the Government.
“Those are hallmarks of development and progress that can only be achieved when you put aside animosity and embrace collaboration.”
Noting 45 acts passed in 71 House of Representatives sittings and 69 Senate sittings in this 12th Parliament, she said much work remains to be done and advised MPs to ensure history does not judge this parliamentary session harshly.
Earlier in her address, she chided some MPs’ conduct, saying the behaviour within the Red House – especially with the advent of the Parliament Channel in 2006, which brings sittings into people homes and workplace – have left people with feelings of contempt for parliamentarians.
She recalled King Charles III saying, “Parliament is the living and breathing instrument of democracy,” Weekes noted TT’s Parliament’s role in holding governments to account and making laws for TT’s peace, order and good government.
“We have experienced disruptive shouting matches, chaotic debates, votes of no-confidence, walkouts, putouts and even allegations of airborne crockery.”
Weekes said citizens scrutinise sittings via the Parliament Channel including the decorum, commitment and temperament of MPs.
“Every gracious concession and compromise is witnessed by the populace, as is every insult, put-down and falsehood which contributes to the negative perception of what should be an esteemed and respected institution.”
She said Parliament and MPs have long been objects of public derision.
“People look on at these proceedings with resignation, despair, or worse, contempt. The respect, trust and confidence that once characterised the relationship between parliamentarian and John Q. Public have been squandered and whittled away, leaving little but disregard, suspicion and doubt as to the capabilities and motives of those elected and appointed to conduct the affairs of the nation.”
She said citizens want MPs to put aside selfish agenda and work for everyone’s well-being.
“Challenges old and new, must be tackled head-on and with wisdom, industry and co-operation.
“None of this can be achieved if the starting point is ugly party politics or a tit-for-tat partisan agenda.
“If unnecessary contention, the exchange of wild accusations and insults, and abrupt withdrawals, are the order of the day, how and when will the people’s business be conducted?
“Whether you represent Diego Martin West or Siparia, St Ann’s East or Barataria/San Juan, Arima or Fyzabad, it is your constituents who feel the heat and suffer the repercussions of your inability or refusal to work together for the common good.
“The people of TT whom you offered and were chosen to serve deserve better, much better!”
Weekes said Parliament was not a venue for partisanship but patriotism.
She said former US vice president Adlai Stevenson had said patriotism was “not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”