When less is more
It has taken what Opposition Leader Keith Rowley called a “tongue lashing” by President Anthony Carmona to persuade MPs to restrain their long-windedness.
A single presidential prompt has now, it seems, induced MPs to cut 30 minutes from their once over-generous allotment of 75 minutes.
Since honourable members could not be coerced into tightening up on their delivery, they must have long been aware of the burdensome impact of their bloviating on fellow MPs (some falling asleep; others electronically distracting themselves), on the verbally-overloaded public and hard-pressed but uncomplaining Hansard reporters.
In principle, the reduction should make for tighter, more cogent parliamentary contributions although if one has nothing substantial to say, even a single minute could be too much to bear.
Of the different sides in Parliament, the onus will be greatest on the Opposition to find less words to say more. By definition, members of the Government always enjoy more opportunity to disseminate ideas, promote their agendas and express opinions. Being among the most senior public-holders, they naturally attract more media attention and have reason to hold more people captive in events of one kind or another. The Opposition, on the other hand, enjoys much less resources and opportunity and, as such, has to find creative ways to get the public’s attention.
The President’s call for less prolonged parliamentary presentations was not only relevant, but timely. With parliamentary excess, including excessive boredom, turning people off, politicians have been turning to other platforms, most notably, prime-time television and radio to reach the national community. While this may be good for politicians and the bottom line of broadcast houses, a healthy democracy cannot afford to fall into the hands of deep-pocketed politicians at the expense of those without money. For this reason, any effort designed to improve the quality of parliamentary contributions and encourage the public interest in parliamentary proceedings are to be welcome.
The cut and thrust of Parliamentary debates gives the public a far more meaningful opportunity to see and evaluate the contributions, ideas and capabilities of their elected representatives. In contrast, the buy-out of airtime by political parties is a propaganda strategy designed to present a single, unchallenged story to the public. If we fail to modernise Parliament and to do everything in our power to keep it relevant and connected to the people whom it is designed to serve, we would be guilty of participating in the demise of our democracy.
We therefore commend the move to reduce the length of time allocated to individual MPs even as we remain aware of the continued scope for granting extra time. What we would however urge is that all MPs reflect on how they have been using the instruments of Parliament and evaluate whether they are making the most effective use of them.
In doing so, they might find plenty room for improvement towards a more effective politics.