Plenary comradery among the traditionally cohesive NDP members of the House of Assembly seems to have been swept away by hurricane Irma because at least three portfolio holders in the legislature have recently spoken out about the alleged discord and called upon the members of the House to put their hurt feelings aside.
Of the three legislators that pointedly spoke about the matter Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering was the most vocal. In fact the Deputy Premier announced that the matters affecting members need to be ironed out –even if the notion of not airing dirty laundry in public has to be ignored.
Hon. Pickering did not use the term “House of Assembly” while making his point about the issues brewing as he spoke during a recent sitting. However, the Deputy Premier said that the discussion has to be had: “There is no question that our country is at a crossroads. There is no question that the organization that governs this country is at a crossroads. We’d like to pretend otherwise but it is obvious – the last vote just proved it that all is not well in the House that governs as we speak.”
In elaborating on his point Dr. Pickering told his colleagues that the Territory is going through some difficult times and that this is not the time to render lip service, but a time for action to get things done. “We have to find ways to do our best to ensure that we get through these difficult times,” he said.
Further Hon. Pickering referenced the recent matter of Second District Representative, Hon. Melville Mitch Turnbull speaking out about matters he was displeased about in a recent House of Assembly sitting and Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn rebuking some of what was said.
In referring to that matter Hon. Pickering pointed out that debate in the House is the bedrock of parliamentary democracy and he asserted that all members of the House of Assembly have a right to speak. “In this House although we have front bench, backbench and opposition Madame Speaker the little I have learned about parliamentary procedures is that all of the members are equal in the House because all of us were elected by constituents.”
The Deputy Premier explained that members of the House of Assembly, even those on the Government side, do not always have to do things a certain way. In fact, he said that he can recall times in his political career when he operated out of norm.
“Madame Speaker I myself when serving on the back bench between 2003-2007 asked my Hon. Colleague the then Minister of Communications and Works – the late Paul P. Wattley of blessed memory – a question, a formal question in the House pertaining to issues in my District.”
“So there is nothing unusual about a member on the back bench speaking up against his government, again the back bench responsibility is to hold the front bench accountable. The back bench has a responsibility to keep Cabinet in line and if we lose sight of that then we are losing sight of the very nature of the parliament we are trying to build. All of us know when we are crossing the line, when we are being disrespectful to one and another and each of us have a right to apologise when it is necessary,” he added.
The Deputy Premier said that he disagreed that certain things should not have been publicly said and announced that the matters should be dealt with in one form or another: “If the Government has internal issues that need to be aired publicly let them be aired publicly. If Irma taught us nothing that’s what Irma taught us. It exposed us. Irma exposed this country it exposed me in every possible way. I live in one of the most public places – some of my constituents said they see me in my bathroom how exposed my house is.”
“If Irma exposed the problems in the Government let it be exposed because that way it would be fixed. You can’t continue to go down a path pretending like all is well and we’re not necessarily on the same page in that regard.”
Furthermore, Hon. Pickering said that members in the House should not be afraid to speak out against acts they don’t agree with because of who is doing the action — even if it’s the Premier: “I spent some long hours over the last couple of days Madame Speaker quiet moments reflecting on these issues, and I told myself that I can no longer keep quiet about it.”
“I have been at the side of Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith for the last 31 years – since 1986. For the last 25 years; basically in more ways than one I have been his number one supporter professionally, politically and otherwise. If anybody can stand up and defend him it is me; but the Premiership is not about a person: the Premiership is an institution.”
Hon. Pickering said that as a member of the Constitutional Review Commission he knows the work that was done to ensure that the Premiership is an institutional body and is not to be only respected based on who is holding the position.
In what can be interpreted as a jab at Minister Walwyn who in a previous sitting announced that he has no qualms leaving the National Democratic Party if persons begin to get disrepectful to the Premier, Hon. Pickering said that as a founding member of the NDP he does not appreciate people opting to leave when things don’t go a certain way.”
“I going say this, loud and clear: I don’t want be part of an organization where people think the organization belong to them, that if things ain’t going right they are going to walk out on it. I am a founding, an original member of this organization, been here through thick and thin…When this organization was flat on its back. After 2007 a talk show host told us go home you ain’t see that nobody ain’t studying you. I been here…seen this organization bounce back from where it was.”
Dr. Pickering added: “Been around this long enough to know some things just ain’t right and some things have to change, and it ain’t have to change for me or for anyone of us. It has to change for the greater good. Each one of us have to see beyond our own selves and do our best to help this country especially at this time. I spent 12 years in this house neither Minister nor nothing. Eight years in the Opposition and four years on the backbench and…I continued to try my best to help my country but we are at a crossroads.”
In his contribution in a recent sitting Junior Minister of Trade and Investment Hon. Marlon Penn suggested that there are disgruntled feelings among members and noted that persons outside of the House of Assembly are attempting to exploit and fuel those feelings.
However, Hon. Penn urged his colleagues to ignore persons whose main aim is to “stroke the bear” and raise or cause the issues to explode. “I don’t want to come in here, in this House with the bickering, the back and forth. It is not necessary. It is not productive…we got to get on with the people’s business.”
The Junior Minister also noted that the issues did not start after the recent hurricanes. “All wasn’t well prior to Irma, we had issues, we had fundamental issues,” he said.
It was not clear if Minister for Communication and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool was speaking about general territorial concerns or matters brewing in the House of Assembly when he announced during a recent sitting that persons have reverted to their old ways: “Days after we were one, working together, weeks after we started keeping together working together and then gradually we go back to our old ways…I want us to understand that in order to move this country forward yes we will have disagreements yes we will disagree on what paths to take.”
Hon. Vanterpool said that naysayers have been critical and accusing of recent but he urged all to ignore the ill words. “Even in the midst criticisms have come and that is fine, all kinds of talk have been said, all kinds of stories have been said, all kinds of accusations even in the middle of the situation and that’s the human being but we can’t let that daunt us, we must not be daunted.”
Being candid about the dissatisfaction of some members in the House, the Minister said: “There is going to be some political fights from now till when I die, and much further, longer — that’s a democracy; but in the middle of it we must not forget that our country that we have built and the Lord has helped us build, on that day [6 September] on that single day was almost totally demolished.”
Minister Vanterpool also said that instead of negatives persons should reflect on what was accomplished in the time since the passage of Irma.