Opposition senators want more commitment in parliament

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The three people who have been appointed after the March 21 general elections to represent the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) in the Senate, have highlighted their interest in lifting the level of debate in parliament.
Richard Lewis, Shawn Nicholas and Johnathan Joseph said on OBSERVER AM that in order to do so senators need to be better prepared for parliamentary debates.
“I’ve had experiences of getting bills a few days before the Senate. That does not lend itself to proper research,” Lewis commented.
“Our job is to hold the government accountable to their promises to Antigua and Barbuda, make sure the bills passed are in the best interest of the people. We are focusing on the issues, so we have to be prepared,” he added.
Lewis, however, acknowledged that it is challenging to change the culture of politics with respect to putting the interest of the broad citizenry ahead of partisan party politics and researching the issues before debating them.
“It will take time. It’s a difficult change, but it has to start some place. Somebody has to start it. I believe we can start to change, but first we have to try to change the mindset of the people of Antigua and Barbuda, the electorate. That’s a difficult thing to do, to change the mindset of the people,” Lewis reasoned.
Meanwhile, Joseph emphasised that changing the culture of our politics has to be about putting Antigua and Barbuda first in the best interest of the public.
“We don’t determine what Bills come into the Senate, so we have to see what the government is bringing and what its agenda is, in order to defend the rights of the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” said Joseph, adding that he would love to see the issues of voter parity, campaign financing, and Barbuda dealt with.
“I would love to see the people of Barbuda live comfortably,” said Joseph.
Noting that timely delivery of Bills is a challenge in the Senate, Nicholas said: “That is something that we fight with all the time. We cannot blame the people in the legislature. Senators getting Bills in sufficient time to ensure adequate research and preparation is important. It’s a big step. Even the technological infrastructure in parliament needs addressing.”
She revealed that it is the norm for senators to be unprepared for debates, emphasising that this also needs to improve in order to change the culture of politics in Antigua and Barbuda.
“We have a good way to go. That’s an area we need to address for us to make our democracy work better than it’s working in terms of
getting Bills to the Upper House in a timely fashion, we need to address that,” she noted.
Joseph, in agreeing with Nicholas, said that preparation is key and if one has to prepare to make any meaningful contribution to any Bill in parliament, materials should be handed to the senators in a timely manner.
“There have been times when people enter the Senate and that’s when they begin opening packages and highlighting things to make a presentation. How can you make an effective presentation at a time like that? You have to do the proper research so you can present your findings to the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” Joseph said.
 He further stated that he is interested in seeing more social programmes that address the elderly, disabled and vulnerable people within the society.
Joseph assured that the party thoroughly assesses proposed laws and ensures they are in the best interest of the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda.

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