Reform is possible with required political will
It ain't easy. Mr Editor, never was — and most likely never will be. Think about it for a minute: long days, late nights, three times a week for two weeks. A Budget debate that is anything but a debate. Two parties, two viewpoints and some very strong differences of opinion — and that's putting it mildly: maybe too mildly in view of recent events. Invariably decisions that go against you and, wham, bam, thank you ma'am, it's a wonder that all ‘you-know-what' doesn't break loose more often on the Hill.
But, hey, party partisans seem to love it: when and where they can, they look to take full advantage. Check out the blogs. As they say, that's politics; run amok, they might add. Mind you, I am not so sure that members of the general public are that impressed or sympathetic.
Still I am not going to get on my high horse (yet) or anybody else's. I have been there, done that, held my ground and nearly been tossed, rightly or wrongly, for holding my ground. It happens.
Nobody's perfect either. Hands up those who have never made a mistake. Now pick up your newspaper everybody and read on. Please.
These incidents are also tests of character: how you handle and how you respond in the teeth of adverse and trying circumstances.
It's much like the late US journalist Theodore White said about the bruising and brutal campaigns for the US presidency. He made his name covering presidential elections and is well known for his ‘making of the president' series of books. While so much of the campaigning and all of the politics of it seemed so excessive and so unnecessary (and this was 40 to 50 years ago), still he could see some merit to what went on. Anyone who could endure, survive and succeed on that campaign trail, was proving themselves capable of taking on the White House for four years; in short, fit to govern in every sense of the word.
For me personally, there were quiet words of advice from veteran politician, the late Dame Lois Browne Evans, earlier on in my career. She took me aside and told me that while I was making some good points, and getting better at it, I needed to stop being “so damn petulant”. It wasn't effective. I listened. It was good advice then. It is good advice now.
Anger, unchecked, almost always boomerangs. Anger, controlled, even feigned, is far, far more effective. It's blunt and it's crude, but the admonition often expressed in realpolitik terms goes like this: revenge is a dish best served cold.
But this is not to excuse bad behaviour, but to encourage better.
Spare a thought too, for the man in the middle up there. They call him the Speaker. What irony. He actually has to do a lot more listening than speaking. But his most important job in the chair is to maintain order. That's not easy either, Mr Editor. He is the final arbiter from whom there is no appeal except, as the rules provide, on a substantive motion of censure; which, sadly, is when he is reduced to servant of the House subject to the will of the majority.
Majority of course rules on the Hill and voters will decide for themselves whether or not that is a good thing, that is whether the power of majority rule has been exercised wisely. Well, that's the theory anyhow.
I wonder. I return briefly to Budget debate on the day. There was no debate. Four hours had been set aside for review of the Immigration Department. There was a prepared brief that was read by the Junior Minister. As it turned out, the Opposition and other members of the House were left with but 20 minutes to speak, to ask questions, and to obtain answers. Ridiculous.
It may feel and look like Government got one up on the Opposition, but the public are the real losers when debate and examination of how our money is to be spent is reduced to this level.
A little later on was when Government chose to reject an Opposition motion to establish a joint select committee to examine and review Bermuda's immigration laws and policies. They moved to change it instead to a take note motion, one of debate and discussion only, which they can do. Pity that. Sure, Government was elected to govern, which they can and which they do, but when it comes to the controversial and the contentious, and immigration qualifies, there is a lot to be gained from engaging in parliamentary opportunities for consultation and collaboration. All of them up there on the Hill are after all our elected representatives..
Never happen, Barritt. It's the system, I am told, our Westminster style of government, which is all too adversarial. But there is room for modification and reform, Mr Editor, if only there was evidence of the necessary political will to make it happen.
NEXT: An obvious answer.
Parliamentarians’ pay can be contentious, Mr Editor, not so much on the Hill as off. No change in salaries is unlikely to attract much attention. So it was that the decision to keep them where they are for another year breezed through the House largely unnoticed. This was around 4am Tuesday.
But here’s the thing: years ago, because legislators get to set their own pay, and because of the controversy that attracts within the wider community, not unreasonably, the Legislature moved to address the issue by establishing an independent Legislature Salaries Review Board.
The statutory change required that the Board review salaries every two years and make recommendations. But it hasn’t happened, at least not this time, and not in recent years either.
So here’s the other thing: the Board isn’t directed on what it can recommend. Whether increases or decreases. Or whether there should be any other changes. Its job is only to review members’ compensation and recommend, taking into consideration “economic conditions” and “any other factors which the Board considers appropriate.”
It might have been good to hear what the Board might have had to say. The fact is, Mr. Editor, what the Board has to say is also still required by law.