We must look to the Caribbean
On March 19, I attended the reading of the British Virgin Islands Budget 2018-19. Having just finished our own Budget session, I was very interested in witnessing their procedures.
While sitting in the gallery, I was sent a note asking me to sit within the hallowed chambers of their parliament. With my mother being from Tortola, walking into their chambers, I was not only representing my mother’s family but also:
• Representing the people of Bermuda
• Representing the Government of Bermuda
• Representing all my fellow MPs
Indeed, it was a moment of great pride. What made me even prouder was that I was sitting in the same chamber as my uncle, Julian Fraser, who is the representative for the 3rd District, which encompasses my family village of Sea Cows Bay.
Serving the people, via politics, is a tradition on both sides of my family. Kind of like the Scott clans. Kind of like the Jackson clan. Dare I say, kind of like the Lister clan.
While in their chamber, a few key things stood out:
• Pictures of former parliamentarians adorn their walls, giving a sense of legacy to be upheld
• Their sessions are not only broadcast on the radio but televised both live and recorded on YouTube
Of great interest to some of my parliamentary colleagues in the Opposition, will be the following two points:
• There is no time limit on their question time
• There is no limit on the amount of questions one member may ask
A key point of comparison will be that there is absolutely no time limit on how long a member can speak on any given topic. Some of those members were on their feet for two hours without a break, which I am sure would find favour with a few of our very own members.
Upon informing them that we are given a maximum of 20 minutes to speak on any one issue, they told me that we must lobby the Speaker to change that rule.
At the end of the session, the Premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando D. Smith, expressed high praise for our very own premier, David Burt. What stood out the most was that all 13 of their parliamentarians insisted that I convey their heartfelt thanks for the assistance that Bermuda had sent during their recent hurricane devastation via:
• Police officers
• Belco linemen
• Medical professionals
• Financial donations
There was a special message for our very own Speaker, Dennis Lister, and Clerk of the Legislature, Shernette Wolffe, which was sent by their Speaker, Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe.
“Please tell the Speaker do not be afraid to drop the gavel when needed!”
Regretfully, I had to inform her that he has no fear whatsoever about dropping the gavel or showing members the door when required.
You see, we the parliamentarians of the English-speaking Caribbean, are joined by a few commonalities:
• Economies based on tourism and/or financial services
• Variations of the Westminster Parliament system
• Horrific legacy of colonialism and slavery
Most of all, we are joined by this thing we called “blood”, as we are all related, no matter in which island we reside. Not surprisingly, most MPs who sit in Parliament in Bermuda are of direct Caribbean heritage.
Prime examples are:
• David Burt, the Premier (Jamaica)
• Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier (St Vincent)
• Jeanne Atherden, Leader of the Opposition (Bahamas)
• Patricia Gordon Pamplin (Trinidad)
• Craig Cannonier (St Kitts)
• Lawrence Scott (Jamaica)
• Neville Tyrell (Nevis)
• Rolfe Commissiong (Trinidad)
• Michael Scott (St Kitts)
We must continue to remind the Bermudian people that despite our geographical location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we are truly Caribbean by nature. Interestingly, our region now dominates athletics and triathlon events globally.
We have a lot to learn from our Caribbean cousins, and they have much to learn from us. So it is incumbent on us to continue to assist each other.
Some areas of needed co-operation:
• Climate-change awareness and preparation
• Civil Service efficiencies
• Gender equality
• Law enforcement
• Electoral reform
• Food security
• Environmental protection
• Growth of tourism
• Growth of small businesses
• Public education
As Caribbean people, we must stick together. Just as the members of Caricom did recently during the Commonwealth conference in London, England.
It was their act of solidarity in standing up against the immoral and shameful treatment of children of the Windrush generation that forced British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Cabinet to make an about-turn on a policy that led to thousands of people being stripped of rightful benefits such as healthcare and/or deported to the Caribbean.
My fellow Bermudians, we must continue to be proactive locally, regionally and globally. Our short and long-term goals must be about moving ourselves and other islands forward.
Indeed, as the cricket term commands, “Rally round the West Indies”.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at email@example.com