Leader of Govt Business and Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis, MP, moves a Motion to Adopt the Report of the Joint Select Committee on the Constitution Amendment (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2020 during the sitting of Parliament, yesterday.

Carl Schmitt, one of the foremost German intellectual right-wing thinkers, argued that the intellectual foundation of Parliament lies not in their representative nature but their commitment to “a process of confrontation of differences and opinions” out of which a political will is established.

He defined Parliamentary debate as “an exchange of opinion that is governed by the purpose of persuading one’s opponent through argument of the truth or justice of something, or allowing oneself to be persuaded of something as true and just.”

For him, Parliamentary decisions should be made on the basis of a clash of opinions rather than of interests, and debate requires “independence from party ties and freedom from selfish interest; public debate and public discussion, parley.”

He argued that mass democracy parties represent economic and social interests, and win assent for their authority through propaganda and appeals to the passions.

“Parliament thus no longer has an intellectual foundation or meaning. Popular representation has upset the balance of power and debates are now a façade. All public business has become an object of spoils and compromise,” he argued.

For Schmitt, Parliament is “like a superfluous decoration, useless and even embarrassing as though someone had painted the radiator of a modern central heating system with red flames in order to give the appearance of a blazing fire.”

While I do not share most of Schmitt’s views, he would have been proud when he looked at what happened in the T&T Parliament and what passed as a Budget debate. Schmitt would not have had to convince many that in this case his views have been proven correct.

It is a disgrace that the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) failed to do its duty as the loyal opposition and question, challenge, offer alternative views and importantly raise the concerns of the thousands of people who voted for them in the elections, held a mere year ago.

The failure of almost half the UNC MPs to speak in the Lower House on an important debate like the Budget is a dereliction of duty and the party’s reliance on the media to do its job is unbecoming.

Joining illegal protests to burn tyres during a pandemic does no one any good, and is a weak attempt to save face.

As for the government which controls the spending and has proposed to increase the size of the Budget by $3 billion thereby effectively spending every cent it anticipates to get from the energy windfall in the next 12 months, is equally disgraceful.

To think that the Budget has been increased by $3 billion and the government is spending every cent it is expecting to get from the increased energy sector revenue and there is not a word from the Opposition UNC, nor an explanation from the government why it needs to spend the additional revenue in its entirety.

In what passed for the Budget debate in the Lower House there was not an explanation of why $52 billion, and whether that is a one-off increase in expenditure, or if it is being done to facilitate a stimulus in the economy?

We had no debate on if this is a return to higher levels of spending, if the strategy of reducing government spend is now out of the window, if this is the real cost of running the country and was being masked in the past by the government taking an unofficial loan from the private sector by not paying VAT refunds in a timely fashion or its bills being carried forward?

If there is no debate how do we get answers to these questions?

We are in the middle of a pandemic but the Minister of Health does not tell us how he plans to spend the billions he has been allocated. We do not hear of a plan of how we can look at total spend in the Health sector which we learn from today’s Business Guardian is actually closer to $12 billion annually.

We are spending close to twice what is the average spend in the region in healthcare and most people will admit they are not satisfied with the quality of healthcare. You either feel that the public healthcare system is likely to fail you or you feel that you are being made to pay through your nose in the private healthcare system.

The Budget debate should have started to address the plans for healthcare, how can we as a society ensure we get value for money. Is the government fooling itself with this health surcharge and should we not move to a healthcare system that insists on health insurance either in the private sector or utilising a private, public partnership, not in the sense of the PPP but in a hybrid approach that ensures the government picks up insurance for those who can least afford or those on government pension.

We must discuss whether in budgeting for the health sector the present system where consultants are hardly ever at the hospitals as are registrars and the burden of the healthcare system resides on the House Officers and Interns who are operating with limited supervision is what we aspire to. We know it to be true and we know it leads to unacceptable outcomes and we know we should be getting better value for money but we choose to leave it alone because the medical lobby is so powerful.

Why did we not hear from the Minister of Health or the Opposition on whether in spending $6 billion the constant problems of diagnostic equipment breaking down or hours of wait for a bed when you are at your most vulnerable or the doctors who seem to give their best in their private offices rather than at the hospital and in some unseemly cases try to push their patients towards their private practice? Would this be addressed?

What of your constituents? At least the people of Mayaro could say they heard from their MP, I live in Diego Martin West and my MP who happens to be Prime Minister was silent. He never told us how this Budget will make the lives of his constituents better, how will we utilise Chaguaramas to build out tourism? How will he lift some of the people of Carenage out of poverty?

The failure of the Budget debate is another example of the failure of leadership.