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Encouraging words: Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Akbar Khan (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s Youth Parliament has been applauded by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

According to Akbar Khan, the institution is a clear example of the legislature reaching out to young people and young people responding at a time when they are often perceived to be disinterested or disengaged from the political process.

“My sense is that they’re not disinterested in what is happening around them, they are disinterested and disengaged with the institution of Parliament and the behaviour of politicians, who they see are not representing their views or connecting with them,” Mr Khan told The Royal Gazette.

He added that “the challenge for Parliaments and parliamentarians is to find a way through which they can channel that interest in political affairs that young people are showing through the process of parliamentary democracy and through our process of Parliaments and that means that Parliaments need to adapt and change to be more accessible to young people and the way in which they are thinking.

“One of those ways in which Bermuda is already leading the way, is Youth Parliament. I had the honour yesterday of speaking at and attending the first Youth Parliament of the session of young people from the age of 12 upwards and I was absolutely humbled by how engaged they are.

“This is a clear example of the Parliament of Bermuda reaching out to young people and young people responding and that’s where we need to be; we need to be more active as parliamentarians, active as institutions, who engage our young people in ways which capture their imagination and through ways which we can capture their thoughts and we can motivate them to be connected with the society and to become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Mr Khan was invited to Bermuda by Randy Horton, Speaker of the House, to explain the CPA’s work in promoting democratic governance across the Commonwealth and to inspire the next generation of leaders.

He held a special assembly at the Berkeley Institute yesterday, which was also attended by Mr Horton, area MP David Burt, education minister Wayne Scott, Shernette Wolffe, the clerk to the legislature, and Carol Bassett, president of the Senate.

Mr Khan spoke about what the Commonwealth is, highlighting the three key values, democracy, development and diversity, and what is happening in Parliaments across the 52 member nations, touching on gender diversity in particular.

He also spoke about the structure of Bermuda’s Parliament and its role in the CPA during the interactive session, in which students were invited to ask questions and raise any concerns.

Mr Khan said the roadshow aimed to connect young people with their local politicians and to encourage them to engage “much more deeply about the issues around democracy and how the community and their parliamentarians can start a dialogue about the importance of the local Parliament and the role that it plays in making decisions about everyone’s’ life in our society”.

Mr Khan, who was appointed Secretary- General in January, explained: “It was clear to me as I went around the Commonwealth that many of our young people simply have no idea of what the Commonwealth is and what it stands for. We belong to a society but we belong to a bigger family, a Commonwealth family, where we have a lot of difference and variety and through that difference and variety we connect with other people around the world.”

He added that one of the binding factors of the Commonwealth is democracy.

“That core value of the Commonwealth around democracy is the hook through which the roadshow is conceived to strengthen youth engagement with the Parliaments and democracy more broadly at a time when many commentators around the world, many politicians around the world are observing that young people are disinterested and disengaged from the political process.”

But, he added: “I find that when I get out on the roadshow, and, as we heard here today at Berkeley Institute, young people are very well informed — they’re very connected with matters which are happening in the world and happening locally and they need to be taken seriously by our representatives and our institutions need to reform and adapt.

The Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mr. Akbar Khan speaks at the Berkeley Institute assembly yesterday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Close attention: Akbar Khan’s speech at the Berkeley Institute assembly yesterday found a captive audience, including MPs David Burt and Wayne Scott (Photograph by Akil Simmons)