Supporting role of a backbencher
Today, let us take a moment to speak about the role of the backbencher. For clarity, a backbencher would be those who are elected to Parliament but are not yet government ministers.
In the existing setting within the Progressive Labour Party, there are 12 ministers and 12 backbenchers. Some may, rightfully, argue that within the One Bermuda Alliance, there are eight shadow ministers and three backbenchers.
Semantics aside, there are several responsibilities for those not within Cabinet.
One of their main roles would be to support the government mandate. This would mean, as a prime example, that at present there is a government drive to get more Bermudians employed at every level.
MPs can support that initiative by assisting persons in their constituencies to take up opportunities at the Department of Workforce Development and/or courses for career retooling at the Bermuda College.
Another key role of MPs is help to educate the electorate on a macro and micro scale regarding government platforms and initiatives.
Another important responsibility of MPs is partaking in committee work. This would mean parliamentary committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, more commonly known as the PAC. This committee oversees the spending of government ministries and capital projects.
Interestingly, this committee, which consists of four government MPs and three opposition MPs, is always headed up by the Opposition party.
Other examples of parliamentary committees are house and grounds, and the standing orders committee.
There are a host of other things that backbenchers are responsible for such as area clean-ups, party fundraising events, branch activities and maintaining relationships with social partners.
Social partners would include unions, churches, civic groups and area-school PTAs.
MPs must also do their part to learn more about local, regional and international politics. This can be done by becoming avid readers and/or taking up parliamentary courses offered by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
In some instances, MPs are paired as understudies to ministers. This exercise allows them to not only have a better understanding of the work of the respective ministries, but also to assist the minister in carrying out their wide range of duties.
With ministers being so deeply engrossed in their responsibilities such as education, finance and immigration, they are often not able to attend all of the concerns of their constituents.
As such, MPs must pitch in by helping to canvass all seats, and by visiting seniors across the island.
Quite frankly, many ministers, no matter which government, are often rightfully criticised for not being in their constituencies as often as they were before going into Cabinet.
However, the reality is that if a minister has a series of meetings locally or overseas, they cannot knock on doors at the same time.
What every elected official must remember is this: the first job of any politician is to remain in contact with their voters. So if the minister cannot do it, then the back bench has to step in to assist.
Again, this is where MPs have to remember that they must operate as a team, as they were voted in as a team.
After all, today they may be backbenchers, but tomorrow they themselves may be ministers.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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