Parliamentarians play solitaire

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The Mighty Spoiler once sang a hilarious calypso called, MAGISTRATE TRY HIMSELF [1958], in which the Limb of the Law found himself facing the bar of justice, after he was summoned for speeding. It was actually quite the spectacle to see the good Magistrate questioning/cross-examining and subsequently answering himself in his very own court. Take a peek, if you will, at some of the lighter moments with the Magistrate as the defendant and the judge, at one and the same time. Aha, well this one is class / They charge a magistrate for driving too fast / Well this one is class / They charge a magistrate for driving too fast / But is one courthouse in the district / He is the only magistrate there to run it / If you see how the people flock up de place / To see how the magistrate go try he own case / Heself tell heself, “You are charged for speeding” / Heself start to shout, “The policeman lying!” / Heself tell heself, “Doh shout!” He said, “No sport!” / And he charge himself for contempt of court / Aha, he said, “Go ahead, let mih hear what happen” / So the police said, “Sah, if you see how this man could speed!” / And he pointing at the magistrate, Johnny Mead / The magistrate ask him who he talking ’bout / “Is you/him ah mean!” the policeman shout out / The magistrate pick up a looking glass / And ask heself, “Is it true you were driving too fast?” / Aha, yes ah nearly drop when the man take out he pen and start to sum up / I start to study if he going to put his own self in custody / I was wrong because again he took out the mirror / Heself tell heself to pay twenty dollar / He bus-out a cry, he turn round and say, “Give me chance, ah want a lil time to pay.” (Chuckle)

Interestingly, a similar situation unfolded here yesterday in what is supposed to be our greatest deliberative body. This was when the Members of Parliament on the government’s side engaged in a debate with themselves on the 2024 Budget which, mind you, was presented in Parliament one business day ago. Of course, this was right smack in the middle of our busy, festive, Christmas holiday season, when nobody was paying attention, and fewer still had time to do any research or pore over the details. With the general preoccupation of the people, it was quite self-serving and grossly unfair for this pitiful Administration to insist on ramming the Budget and the Budget Debate down our throats, as though there was some extenuating circumstance that demanded that Parliament act with dispatch.

Why the inordinate haste? Why not be considerate of the thoughts and concerns of the Parliamentarians on the other side of the aisle? Could not a decent happy medium be found, one amenable to all the parties, especially the good citizens of this fair State who, arguably, were quite distracted by the Antigua Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST)-reduction weekend, and all the other pressing matters that accompany the end-of-year holiday season? What a time of year to present a Budget and hastily schedule the debate! Seems, in every which way, this Administration is bent on disrespecting and ignoring the good citizens of Antigua and Barbuda. They insist on being arrogant, condescending and pig-headed. Needless to say, the Parliamentary process in what is supposed to be a robust democracy, was brought to a new low.

To be sure, we are not surprised. In the wrangling over the date for the Budget Debate last week, the Opposition MP’s pleaded for more time to go over the details in the $1.9B budget, what with its new onerous tax measures, and government’s pledge to become more fiscally responsible in expenditure and revenue collection. Sadly, rather than being gracious, this Administration giggled and amused themselves with snide, backhand compliments about the political expertise of the Opposition MP’s, blah, blah, blah. And the government, faked some magnanimity by saying that the debate would be held on Tuesday (yesterday), rather than Monday.

To its eternal credit, the Opposition MP’s stood their ground. They were not going to back down in the face of the bullying from those in High Places. They made the case for an accommodation on the part of the government for Thursday of this week, thereby giving them time to do the research and consult with their experts and prepare their arguments. They were rebuffed, and they decided to NOT show-up for the debate.

Yesterday was a great day. The Opposition is showing its mettle, and those who support the Opposition are pleased. They are heartened at the push-back. And the push-back is showing this very weak Administration that the Opposition will not be trifled with, it will not be pushed around. Remember, folks, there are more people that showed-up to vote at this last General Elections that are opposed to this Administration, than for it. This is a minority government. And it will not be business as usual in our Parliament. These United Progressive Party (UPP) parliamentarians will not be pussy-footing or playing ‘dolly-house’ with this Administration. The good citizens of Antigua and Barbuda are so very tired and fed-up of this government’s ineptitude and malfeasance. They are yearning for a change.

So there they were in Parliament, the government MP’s, singing the same tiresome songs to the choir, and amusing themselves with all manner of antics and semantics, as though anybody but themselves cared. It was a silly charade, an unfunny pappy-show. Much like the aforementioned Magistrate Johnny Mead, they asked themselves questions, they answered themselves; they gesticulated wildly, they addressed the empty Opposition seats, and gazed up at the empty Opposition gallery; and held-forth at length in what can only be termed an alternate reality.

Of course, the Opposition is aware that there is much that is questionable and reprehensible in the 2024 Budget, so, at a time of their own choosing, they will be dissecting it. And they will be doing so after their research and their collaboration with the financial experts. They will be prepared, and they will be able to make a meaningful and informed contribution to the Budget discussion. In the Parliament of the People, no less. Meanwhile, the few people who were watching the debate, (At one point, there were only eighty persons watching online) were anxiously waiting to see if one of the needlessly animated government Parliamentarians would take out a mirror, stare at his or herself, and move a motion that he or she be charged with contempt of Parliament. Help us, Lord! The Mighty Spoiler is chuckling in his grave.

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