It also demonstrated just how divided the country has become, politically. Just like the gangs that terrorize communities in many parts of the world, political parties here have also become “colour driven” with the colours of yellow, gold, red, orange, blue, green, and now white, being used to distinguish who “we” are. No longer is the passport or birth certificate the common ID that identifies who is a Kittitian/Nevisian; it is now colours. A sad tale for the nation’s children.
It was a display never seen before, and certainly not since the attainment of Adult Suffrage in 1952, some 62 years ago.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor, who also once served for over a decade as the Leader of Government Business in the Assembly, summarized the meeting this way, “today was an all-time low.” He should know; he has been serving in the parliament since 1989.
There are many in the country, who watched in horror, and who would agree with Condor’s characterization. However the apportion of blame by members of the public, as to who caused the deterioration of parliamentary decorum, is being placed according to political affiliation.
Some are blaming Speaker Curtis Martin, while others deride the members of the opposition, and yet there are those who say it was the government side of the House that caused the fracas. Sadly, there is enough blame to share across the aisle and on the Speaker’s elevated chair of authority.
What happened on Church Street on Monday in the halls of parliament must never be repeated, said one observer who claimed they watched, in disdain, the disgraceful behaviour of men (and woman), who delivered a classic lesson in how not to behave in public, much less a House that should be occupied by men of honour; men and women who ought to know wrong from right, and who ought to be guided by principles.
They are all supposed to be carrying the title of “Honourable” which means they are to be respectful, dignified and filled with integrity, driven by a desire to do good for the people who elected them to be there. Unfortunately it seems like all that has disappeared and parliament is fast becoming no different to a rum shop occupied by drunken sailors bent on outdoing each other with “bad bahaviour”. Just like the famous “Girls Gone Wild” videos of young American girls on Spring Break, Monday’s charade in parliament was an epic episode of parliamentarians gone wild; losing all gentility and civility when it comes to parliamentary debate.
But what caused all this? It was not sudden. It was simply the culmination of a political storm that had been brewing off the coast for the past two years, (almost). It was a crash that many say was inevitable, given all that has been happening with possible boundary changes, motions of no confidence, passport scandals, sale of government land on both islands, land for debt swap, claims of government sackings and victimization and the charges of corruption, treachery, nepotism and financial wastage.
Others have said it was the late notice for the parliament meeting; it was the late circulation of the Order Paper which outlines all the agenda items for the debate; or it was the non-appearance of the Motion of No Confidence, on the Order Paper. There is also the claim that parliament itself should have not been meeting, based on a recent ruling by a High Court Justice. The failure to provide early copies of the bills to be debated, papers to be laid and resolutions to be made, also formed part of the concerns expressed by opposition members. The late start of the meeting too was a contentious issue.
The delayed approval for some opposition supporters to enter Government Headquarters on their way to parliament, while Labour party supporters were already seated in the Assembly, was another claim that that some say helped to ignite the flame of political tribalism.
Those who are more sympathetic to the ruling party also charge that the opposition came with the intent of disrupting the meeting and creating havoc.
Those who support the opposition challenge that the Speaker acted unfairly, biased and refused to obey the rules of the parliament. He too, the Speaker, also claimed that members of the opposition were the ones who were flaunting the rules and only wanted to apply them when it suited their cause.
Constitutional challenges were made as opposition members sought to inform the Speaker that the Supreme Law of the land was being breached with the voting process but this found no favour with Speaker Martin, who was adamant that the “people’s business must be done”.
Even members of the gallery of the Assembly who are expected to be mere observers, at times got into the act, exchanging salvos with members of parliament on both sides. Not surprising because the gallery was divided with government supporters dressed in red and members of the coalition of opposition parties, donned in their white outfits. Even before the meeting got started supporters from each side shared insults and taunted each other.
Those in red sat on the west and those for the opposition in white, occupied the eastern portion of parliament. Interestingly, the opposition parliamentarians also sat on the east and those for the ruling party, like their supporters, occupied the western benches, making it from the start, a house divided.
The only thing that did not happen was a fist fight. Perhaps that was not too far away. It got so out of control that Speaker Martin, at one time threatened to suspend (adjourned) the sitting. He had lost total control of his house. This would have been a major victory for the opposition, some thought, but the government side too recognized the possibility, and there were those who calmed the Speaker urging him not to deliver a moral victory to the opposing side.
The constant cross talk, which he himself in the past has allowed, some say even encouraged, finally mounted to un-acceptable levels that shocked Martin, making it very difficult to control the proceedings. He has also been known to caution members when, in the past, he thought the chatter and interruptions were overbearing. There are those who hold the view that such is expected in parliament.
There were times when the Speaker repeated to opposition members, “leave, leave”! In return some of the elected members reminded, “I was elected”!
At one point when an opposition member was asked to take his seat and refrain from further debate of a point, he was told by the Speaker, “Shut up”! This too did not help.
The agenda item of “Minister’s Statement” was perhaps one of the most disheartening periods of the show-piece. While opposition members objected to the use of the statements to make controversial comments, which is not allowed they say by the rules of the Assembly, members of the government complained that they were being unnecessarily disrupted. They were. But they too have had a long history of doing same to the opposition when on their feet trying to make their presentations.
All parliaments, including ours, have rules that are known as Standing Orders. Unfortunately these appeared to have been forgotten on Monday by the Speaker and the elected and appointed members of the Assembly he is supposed to manage.
No side won on Monday. All lost. The entire nation suffered an embarrassment from grown men (and a woman) who seemed determined to denigrate the good name, image and character of St. Kitts and Nevis. Of late some folks have been using the interesting tag line, “St. Kitts Sexy”, but on Monday, St. Kitts (and Nevis) was nothing but “naughty”. By the way, how many of you want to hear your young children walking around saying St. Kitts Sexy. Is it also ok for a little fourth grader to walk around the school saying to his teacher, “teacher sexy”?
If so, then St. Kitts Sexy!
What a term for a little five year old to use as tourist slogan. And just in case we have forgotten, sexy also means lewd, racy, erotic, sensual and suggestive. Just what else do we want our young children to be suggestive about when being schooled in the slogan, St. Kitts Sexy? Some rather prefer the slogan of the sister island, “Nevis Nice”! And indeed it is.
But what is the connection with this and what happened Monday? Simple. The morals that are taught to the younger generation. Secondly the messages and examples that are shared with those still in primary and even secondary school must be consistent with positive ethical values. But so much for that!
What is sad about the sordid affair on Monday is that on Wednesday, 20th August, just two days after Monday’s bad “soap Opera”, the members of the St. Kitts & Nevis Youth Parliament Association, SKNYPA, are due to participate in a mock debate in the same National Assembly.
How many believe that the example set on Monday is what these young, intelligent top performers with academic brilliance, ought to follow? It is hoped that they (SKNYPA) were not invited on Monday to understudy the older and full time parliamentarians. It would not be good for them to have suffered the juvenile display.
However, the real reason why the behaviour in parliament was at an all-time low, as stated by the former Deputy Prime Minister, is that they, the members of parliament, do not respect each other.
But who cares, “parliament sexy”!