Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wrong and strong


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Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon's effrontery represents a new low in the attitude among public officials who feel entitled to State property and other privileges just because they occupy public office.

Claiming "tradition" as her justification for remaining in a Petrotrin house even after being requested to move, Ms Gopee-Scoon let the matter go to court and now has to go through the ignominy of eviction.

Worse, instead of apologising to her constituents for having dragged her office into disrepute by her actions, she is standing her ground and claiming to have being wronged as a victim of political victimisation.

This is a matter that should never have gone to court in the first place. Whether or not it was Petrotrin's tradition to provide housing to an MP, the point is that this was a courtesy extended by the company which is entitled to end the arrangement whenever it so chooses.

Why a State-owned company should have been extending this courtesy to an MP at all, and on such a long-term basis, is a matter to which its own management should be held to account. How did this cosy arrangement conform to Petrotrin's housing policy—assuming it has such a policy in the first place?

While the most glaring aspect of the entire affair is Ms Gopee-Scoon's lack of sensitivity to the legal, ethical and political implications of her actions, the incident raises other issues of relevance to the public interest.

Among these are the long-standing issue of MPs who do not reside within the boundaries of their constituencies and the access to MPs enjoyed by constituents. Both strike at the heart of representation which is the cornerstone on which democracies are built.

Ms Gopee-Scoon says she spends two to three days in Point Fortin which, assuming it is accurate, might be laudable given the lengthy absences of some MPs from constituency life. Readers will, however, recall that during the Sunday Express MP Monitor Series last year, Ms Gopee-Scoon seemed so invisible to her constituents that some thought she was a man. At the time, she claimed that she usually spent one day a week in Point Fortin although her presence could sometimes go as high as three days a week.

Even if this were accurate, it would not be good enough.

As an Opposition MP, Ms Gopee-Scoon does not have the challenge of serving in both cabinet and constituency as Government MPs do. Further, as a constituency held by the Opposition, the people of Point Fortin would believe, probably with good reason, that they need greater championing of their needs and more focused representation from their elected MP.

Now that she has agreed to obey the court's order and vacate the Clifton Hill house, we hope she will proceed full haste to find a permanent residence within the boundaries of her constituency. Proper representation demands nothing less.