“Order!” shouted the Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George. “Order!”
“Prime Minister,” the Speaker had already said three times while on her feet. Ignoring her, the Prime Minister continued his rant in response to what seemed to me to be a reasonable question from Naparima MP Rodney Charles.
The Speaker was not, however, moved to ask the Prime Minister to leave the House. Nor to adjourn the sitting.
That disconcerting sequence brought to my mind the 1967 Calypso Monarch the Mighty Cypher who sang ‘If the priest could play, who is me?’ If the Prime Minister disrespects the Speaker of the House in Parliament, then what are we to expect from the other members of Parliament?
What are we to expect from young men on the streets? What are we to expect from public servants in their daily interactions with the people they serve?
If the prime minister cannot control his anger, then what are we to expect of ordinary citizens?
I sincerely hope the Speaker has had the courage to have a private conversation with the Prime Minister, the very official who nominated her to her post. I sincerely hope she has advised him that any recurrence will be dealt with severely.
But it also makes me wonder whether, if the speaker were male, such disrespect would have prevailed. The last male PNM speaker of the House was Barendra Sinanan, MP, who presided from 2002 to 2010 and I seem to recall a different tone and general ambience in the House.
Am I viewing things through ‘rose-tinted’ lenses or did parliamentarians behave in a more dignified manner then? Were they or weren’t they more deferential and respectful in the way they conducted themselves?
The average citizen tends to look to the party in power for leadership. Therefore, those who hold the reins of power are obligated to set a tone that is calming and collaborative rather than aggressive and disrespectful. Instead, we frequently witness tones of aggression, anger and violence.
In these times of uncertainty and turmoil, we need leadership that is calm and purposeful. What I saw in Parliament was a prime minister, employee of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who felt it necessary to remind us that he is the prime minister and to suggest that the opposition member should go to Guyana or Barbados.
Had he been in complete control, he may have taken a deep breath and responded in a way that was much less aggressive and violent.
Almost simultaneously on television, the US Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson was in progress. In stark contrast, I saw a female leader maintaining her grace and dignity for many hours while under severe provocation and pressure.
Many of us here in T&T feel stuck and hopeless. It is an ideal opportunity for the leadership to intervene and change the tone from hopelessness to optimism.
I seem to remember, Prime Minister, that when you were asking for our vote, you implied that you would take leadership down a different path. Instead, whether it is in the Parliament, at a political meeting or at a news conference, we continue to be subjected to your language of violence and aggression.
I shall continue monitoring the parliamentary proceedings and I sincerely hope never again to witness the Speaker calling repeatedly but in vain for order to be restored.
If we are to reduce the level of violence in our country, our leaders, indeed, all our politicians must begin to always show respect for each other, for their employers (the citizens of T&T) and pour soothing oil on already troubled waters.