Saturday, July 15, 2006

Parliament takes back seat to party

Letter to the Editor
Trinidad Guardian
July 15, 2006

It is impossible for the irony to go unnoticed by Senator Mary King. Or indeed by the chair of the various committees of Parliament charged with protecting the public interest. We must make certain, however, that the general public does not miss the irony.

Earlier this year, super-technocrats Ken Julien and Prakash Saith were invited to appear before the joint select committee of Parliament, chaired by King, in order that the committee, and by extension the public, may gain a clearer understanding of the issues surrounding the troubling intention of the Government to establish two aluminium smelter plants in the country. Both men did not attend. And, as a result, Parliament and the people remain in the dark with respect to critical questions concerning these smelters.

Now here is the rub. At a recently held $500 breakfast forum put on by the Prime Minister’s constituency, and attended by both men, the Prime Minister continued to berate those in Opposition to the smelter projects as being misinformed. This notwithstanding the fact that I, among many others, am on public record challenging the Prime Minister to publicly answer certain questions regarding the smelter deals. So far, he has remained silent.

Now, these men did not merely attend this function. Media reports indicate that both Julien and Saith made powerpoint presentations at the function. In order words, in the minds of these men, accounting to the ruling party constituency apparatus is given higher priority than accounting to Parliament. Those attending the party’s function received information, albeit controlled, while the parliamentary committee received excuses.

The message therefore is quite clear. And we must make no mistake in its interpretation, which is: in the conduct of governmental affairs, both the party and the Cabinet are paramount to the Parliament. If the obverse of this were true, then the PM along with Julien and Saith would have no choice but to account to the Parliament and people for their actions. Sadly, this is not the case.

King and her colleagues therefore have much work to do in order to reverse this trend which only serves to diminish the authority of Parliament.

In so doing, the parliamentary oversight committees must not only continue to probe the smelter deals but also the purchases of blimps for national security, expenditures of UTT, issues concerning expenditure and occupation of the Red House, the as yet unfulfilled commitment to establish a replacement for the National Broadcasting Network, and so many other critical issues crying out for decisive intervention by Parliament.

If Parliament fails, so too will our democracy. Where Parliament is weak, dictatorship is certain to emerge. Where do you stand?

Lincoln Myers

Gran Couva


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