Arthur calls on Opposition Leader to get serious about matters before Parliament

Juvenile and jejune.

That's how Independent Member of Parliament for St. Peter, Owen Arthur, described the contribution made by leader of the Opposition BLP, Mia Mottley, during the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2015 yesterday.

Arthur, while offering his full support to the amendment, chided Mottley and her Opposition for not taking the matter of making a change to the supreme law of the land seriously, recognising that a two-thirds majority is needed for the amendment to be passed.

The former Prime Minister, who has spent over three decades in Parliament, stated that extraneous subjects – in this instance statutory boards – to the matter at hand, ought not to be brought into the debate in order to gain political mileage.

He said the matter, which seeks to change the terms of engagement in the Constitution of the Auditor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, falls in line with what he considers to be the most important accomplishment of the BLP under his helm, to change the retirement age to 67, given the changing demographics of the country.

“If it was inconsistent with that provision, and sought to offend that... I would be speaking stoutly against what is proposed.

“It is now the BLP position, that legislation in relation to statutory boards, which is not a constitutional matter, should be changed to make it so consistent, then also let that be done and you will get my support for that too; but to come here and to get involved in a constitutional debate and to conflict it with extraneous matters, is I believe to become involved in a juvenile and jejune exercise, unworthy of a parliament that is being asked to change its Constitution. We do not come here often to change the Constitution. When we come here, let us be serious about what we are doing,” he exhorted.

“This is just ridiculous now. The House is being asked to agree to a change to the terms of engagement of two entities defined in the Constitution; we cannot do it otherwise. We can change the terms of age of retirement of statutory boards other than by being engaged in a Constitutional debate, and for us now to seek to conflict the two together is unworthy of this Parliament. The matter is simple. It really is simple. This now must not be allowed to become a debate about the state of the governance of the BLP, because this is what the debate is heading towards.”

Saying that under the BLP he was castigated for opposing matters in which he believes, he said this does not augur well for the Parliament for Barbados.

However, Opposition Leader Mottley retorted: “Not being able to support is not the same as opposing. There is a difference both in this Chamber and in the dictionary between the word abstain and not opposing and supporting. We will abstain in this matter. For the Honourable Member to say that we are opposing this matter is a wrong thing, because we cannot find ourselves capable of supporting it while thousands of public servants are not given the assurance by this government.”

Arthur reiterated that if a matter of statutory boards came before Parliament, he would give his support, but that the matter before hand was this important change in the Constitution.

“It disappoints me greatly to hear that there can be any circumstance where a matter can come before this parliament, embodying one of the most progressive policies of the BLP, and I am hearing not only you may oppose, because that is why you might oppose but that you may abstain.

“The arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition appeared to be juvenile and jejune, and unworthy of presentation on behalf of a serious institution.

“I have served in an Opposition party too, but the notion that you have to oppose just for the sake of opposition is something that certainly in my time as an Opposition party was not something that we felt compelled to follow as a guiding precept. Things are judged on their own merits, even if we have had to qualify.”

He lamented that if “simple” matters like this can't be resolved, then Barbados will be in “dangerous trouble” and will be left in gridlock. (JH)

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