FLASHBACK... Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes addressing members of both Houses of Parliament, at the Official Opening Ceremony in August 2020.

Gail Alexander

“Parliamentarians, can we trust you?”

It’s a question many citizens may have and President Paula-Mae Weekes yesterday put that query and others squarely to elected MPs and appointed Senators on behalf of the population.

She urged them to ponder the queries as they began their very demanding 60-month “job” from yesterday.

Weekes raised the points of concern – delivering straight talk advice on how Parliamentarians should operate – when she addressed the opening of the new Parliament term at the Red House.

It was her first speech launching a new term.

Weekes also said if there was ever a time for Government, Opposition, and Independent benches to work together, “That time is now, given the COVID-19 pandemic and its exacerbation of pre-existing problems.”

Noting the oath of office Parliamentarians had taken earlier in the proceedings, “to conscientiously and impartially discharge their responsibilities to the people,” Weekes added, “The essence of the relationship between Members of Parliament and the public is one of trust, confidence and fidelity.”

“Notwithstanding some significant milestones over the years, the strength of that bond has been eroded by the failure of successive Parliaments to deliver consistently on the reasonable expectations of the populace. And, to make matters worse, citizens have come to feel that they have been repeatedly forsaken, betrayed and mamaguyed by those they have put in a position to make laws for their peace, order and good governance.”

“Members, I need to ask you a personal question. Can we trust you?”

Weekes said she was asking, on behalf firstly of the approximately 658,000 citizens who voted in the August 10th general election.

“They did their civic duty hoping you prove ready, willing and able to ensure their security, prosperity and future, as well for the rest of the population. Can we trust you to discharge your functions in accordance with your oath?”

“Your core function is law-making, an essential service in our democracy, one which gives you the power to transform the lives of our citizens and our nation. Each of you seated in these chambers has the primary purpose of conducting the people’s business.”

She said it’s vital Parliamentarians have a full grasp of their remit and limitations and are totally committed to their task.

“That’s the only way you will be able to keep the promises inherent in your oath.”

Quoting author Roy T. Bennett, Weekes added, “Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them. You might think this advice is a little too late since you already made your promises to the nation this morning in your oath, but now is the right time to begin keeping those promises.”

She queried if T&T could trust Parliamentarians to measure up to the standards required of high office.

Weekes also added, “I see many new parliamentarians among our number. You will have to mature into your role very quickly….from today you’re expected to get down to managing the affairs of the public.”

“In this form of service, there is no such thing as ‘beyond the call of duty. Be prepared to work selflessly and tirelessly for the duration of your term. It will be a long haul. The Prime Minister’s recent reference to 60 months perhaps puts it in its right perspective.”

“Parliament requires persons of high calibre. Respect, self-control, and patience must be your guiding principles both within and without these halls.”

Weekes continued, “Can we trust you to listen to what we are saying, empathise, and show compassion for our hardships? The general complaint is that after an election, constituents only see their MPs in the lead up to the next election. When canvassing for votes, you are omnipresent, all ears and full of concern for their plight but once you win your seat you become remote, busy, and unavailable to constituents.”

“The people who exercised their franchise in your favour want to be assured that they will get value for their vote. They want you to listen to, not just hear, what they are saying, understand their hopes and fears, and bring their concerns to this august body.”

“You are now their power-source, as they were yours, 18 days ago. They want you to use your time in these chambers to represent their interests, not to engage in frivolous and irrelevant crosstalk. Although I do admit that a little well-placed picong can ease the tension.”

She also noted former British politician Chris Butler’s words, “Trust is earned when actions meet words.”

“By putting yourself forward for election and/or by agreeing to be appointed to the Senate, you’ve spoken. Now is the time for you to act.”

She invited Parliamentarians examine the following queries of themselves and others.

“What is my track record in Parliament and elsewhere? What sacrifices am I willing to make? What are my intentions, aspirations and motivations? Are they aligned with my true purpose of serving the people?”

“The correct answers to these questions will reassure us we can trust you. And that, Honourable Members, is all that we really ask.”

Conduct your private affairs properly

President Paula Mae Weekes also urged Parliamentarians to be alert, to not sleep in Parliament, and to conduct their private affairs in an exemplary way.

She queried, “Can we trust you to bring your A-game to these Chambers, taking night to make day if necessary so that you can make a meaningful contribution?

“Parliamentary debates can sometimes be long and tedious but that doesn’t give carte blanche to members to become disengaged from the process. How many times has the public been witness to members who were nodding off, engrossed in their phones or otherwise showing no interest in the ongoing debate? However challenging the process, members of the public expect you to remain alert in order to actively defend their interests.”

“Can we trust you to put aside narrow partisan interests and work together for the good of us all? And can we trust the non-partisan Independent bench to remain above the fray and serve the interests of the whole?”

“The difference between a politician and a statesman, according to American writer James Freeman Clarke, is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation. As you make your contributions and finally vote on proposed legislation, what is your true focus?”

She urged voting for T&T’s welfare as a whole.

“The man in the street isn’t concerned about the political gamesmanship that often unfolds here. He wants timely legislation that improves his quality of life and uplifts the nation, and that requires that parties, without sacrificing their principles, work together to achieve the common good.”

Weekes added, “You are required to conduct yourselves in your private affairs in the same exemplary manner that you conduct the affairs of Parliament. You are automatically role models for many of our youngest citizens and must uphold the highest standards of behaviour for the benefit of both the business of these chambers as well as for those who will take pattern.”

She also added, “Whether or not the bill under debate requires your input or is within your area of expertise, it’s almost certain to affect some, if not all of your constituents. Even when you aren’t on your feet, citizens expect your full participation in the process.”