A petting zoo for parliamentarians

At Dr Roger Luncheon’s press conference last week, the approval of funds for the establishment of a petting zoo took only second place to the continuing controversy over the USAID LEAD Programme to which the government has taken objection. In announcing government’s no objection to the expenditure of $32.5 million for the petting zoo, Dr Luncheon publicly broke cabinet solidarity by announcing his objection to the decision to fund the petting zoo which he harshly termed “foolishness” even though he did not know what it was.

It is not known if the tone of Dr Luncheon’s weekly condemnation of people and things at his press conferences is in inverse proportion to the extent of his knowledge of the particular subject. The violence of his condemnation of the petting zoo, seems to suggest this to be the case. If so, it brings into focus the great strength of his objection to the USAID project. Shouldn’t we conclude that he does not know what it is?

so140112ralphWhen the assembled journalists explained to Dr Luncheon what a petting zoo is, he did not relent. He could not figure out why a government, his government in fact, would want to spend so much money for children to play with animals. He said: “I can’t understand… we gon spend so much money for them to go rub a horse and play with a dog?”

Not being familiar with a petting zoo myself I resorted to Wikipedia. There are entries for Heavy Petting Zoo and Exotic Petting Zoo as well. I will avoid these since I am writing about children and parliamentarians, groups which can be very impressionable.

I discovered that a petting zoo features both domesticated animals and wild species but are of even temperament so that they can be safely touched and fed. While petting zoos are located in zoos and parks, they can also be mobile and can travel to a home, a party or an event. The purpose of petting zoos is to educate, entertain and create respect for others. They can lead to an atmosphere of calm deliberation.

When my children were very young during the 1980s one of our favourite places to visit was the zoo. It was a regular Sunday afternoon outing. They were always anxious to play with the animals, most of which were dangerous or excitable and therefore not suitable playmates. In fact when they approached the cages and the animals retreated or reacted noisily in fear, the children would also become afraid. Unfortunately in those times there was no petting zoo.

When I became Speaker in 2001, I remembered those days when I visited the zoo with my children and wondered how they would have reacted to the angry noise emanating from the Parliament Chamber. Now I hasten to add that I am not comparing our esteemed parliamentarians to wild animals in the zoo. Some would, and they would be rightly condemned as being disrespectful, but I would not go there. But no one would deny that the current configuration in Parliament would lead anyone into valleys of despair and mountains of noisy rage. Just look at the number of MPs who on a normal sitting have been driven by despair to sleep or are on their feet fulminating in rage at the most arcane procedural point.

I would strongly support the establishment of a mobile petting zoo which can be located at the Botanical Gardens, where children would have the opportunity that mine did not have, of feeding and playing with the animals. No one would deny that this would be a very beneficial experience for children as they grow up.

The petting zoo would also be rolled out to Parliament Building during sittings and located in the lobby.  When a member feels or expresses despair or rage he or she could either voluntarily repair to the petting zoo to seek calm and comfort from the animals. The MPs can feed and coo to the animals in animal language as we do to babies in baby language. The calming effect would be instantaneous. For recalcitrant MPs the disciplinary powers of the Speaker can be expanded so that s/he can confine a member to spend a period of time at the petting zoo.

In relation to the USAID LEAD Programme it appears that the US Government has informed the Guyana Government that it will continue the project but is willing to discuss amendments. Dr Luncheon has climbed down somewhat and agreed to discussions, which he appeared to have earlier rejected. But he now demands that implementation stops while discussions proceed. Well, the compromise is obvious. Pause the programme and start discussions.

As a neutral person the Speaker ought to offer to Dr Luncheon and Ambassador Hardt a neutral venue, namely the Parliament Building. Since Dr Luncheon would need some calming influence having regard to the shrill tones of his condemnation of the actions of Ambassador Hardt, it would be most appropriate for the Speaker to have installed for the meeting the petting zoo, nearer to Dr Luncheon than Ambassador Hardt, as Dr Luncheon seems to need it more, especially if the presence of the Ambassador enrages him further.

And the Ambassador should be kept a safe distance away from the Dr Luncheon, just in case… I am sure that if Dr Luncheon has the opportunity during the meeting to “rub a horse and play with a dog,” in fifteen minutes the meeting will be over with full agreement on all points.

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