The circus that is our parliament put on another show this past week in Belmopan and what can be said, is that the clowns were in top form. From the live broadcast and the camera images from the show, it is obvious that whatever standing orders exists for our House of Representatives are either being totally ignored or is in need of some serious revamping. Glenn Tillett’s point is well taken, that maybe we should point the fingers directly at those most guilty. If we listen carefully to the proceedings, it is obvious that the ballyhoo and licentious behavior come primarily from one side of the aisle. It is an issue that warrants imperative address for these are the leaders of our country and it is their examples that our young people emulate.
The House of Representatives met for two days last week for what was supposed to be a debate of the budget. Labeled “Celebrating Growth and Sustaining Recovery”, the budget was read the previous week by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. As was expected, those in opposition were critical of the budget while members of the ruling party rose to give support. What was not expected, by anyone it seems, was an all out assault launched by the member from Orange Walk East against his own party. Former Minister of Sports and Youth Marcel Cardona delivered a barrage of indictments and caustic condemnations directed primarily against Dean Barrow and Deputy Prime Minister Gasper Vega. Cardona basically echoed what many folks have been saying for a long time; that is that Dean Barrow is vicious and vindictive and that Gapi Vega is straight out “greedy”.
While Cardona’s speech dropped jaws and opened eyes, what had most people talking on the streets was the disgraceful conduct of our so-called “honorable” members of parliament. In a disgraceful show of disrespect and contempt for the House, members from the government side continuously interrupted and heckled opposition members as they attempted to offer their side of the debate. Acting more like undisciplined juveniles at a kindergarten than the honorable and intelligent individuals that they are supposed to be, members (including the Prime Minister) could be seen screaming and making monkey faces at opposing members across the aisle. Is it any wonder that our young citizens behave the way that they do? If our leaders cannot sit down and have civil and intelligent discourse about important issues like a budget, how can we expect ordinary young people to behave any differently?
As could have been expected, the hostility and animal behavior eventually spilled over and for the first time in memory, resulted in physical confrontation between spectators in the gallery. This has brought to light a budding danger that if left unaddressed, will one day bear bitter fruit. As a part of the strategy to seem to have support, political parties try to fill the gallery with their “rent-a-crowds.” These paid-to-holler mercenaries will go to extreme lengths to seem to be working for their pay. A lot of emotions is stirred, fueled by free liquor and whatever other stimulants. Friday’s display might be just a prelude to coming attractions and hopefully necessary precautions will be taken before someone gets seriously hurt.
Many will remember a few years back when UDP aspirant Kenny Morgan threatened to throw a grenade from that very gallery into a gathering of the House. Had that been anywhere else but Belize, it would have been treated as a terrorist act and Morgan would have had some serious questions to answer. Unfortunately and maybe not just coincidentally, hardly a year had passed when for the first time in our history grenades were tossed onto our streets causing death, mayhem and serious injuries. Belizeans narrowly escaped massive casualties when a grenade tossed into a carnival parade, by the grace of GOD, failed to explode. Interestingly enough and in spite of all that, the very same Kenny Morgan was later nominated by this government for the distinguished honor of Member of the British Empire (MBE). As I write this article, I am hearing on the radio that he is this very week receiving that honor. Wonder what would have been the reward had he actually thrown the grenade?
The fact is that for the protection of those members in Parliament, something needs to be done to prevent this tragedy from ever occurring. These spectators must also be prevented from harassing and verbally assaulting our elected representatives; at least so far, the abuse is only verbal. It might be time to maybe install a bullet proof glass between the gallery and the actual hall where policy matters are discussed. These are serious times and with our people showing little to no regard for human life or any kind of authority, it might be in the best interest of these parliamentarians to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. Just this week, brazen criminals walked into a Police Station and shot a fully uniformed and on duty Police Constable. Are we to wait til the horse escapes before we close the gate?
What turned out to be a very interesting sitting of the House culminated on Friday with the Prime Minister continuing his trademark calumny and disparaging attacks against members of the Opposition. Discussing everything from the color of Said Musa’s hair to the tone of Johnny Briceno’s voice, Prime Minister Barrow, while his usual colorful and articulate self, still left people asking the classic question of “where is the beef’? After two long days of bickering and “pickney actions” very little about the actually budget got discussed and Belizeans are still left holding on to empty promises and imaginations of possibilities. Seems at the end of the day, this was little more than one big one-ring circus. Unfortunately for us, it is a suffer-ring circus.
G. Michael Reid aka GMike