Tomorrow our leaders gather in the polished Parliament to pontificate about a national budget to build this country over the next year.
It’s a new Parliament, and for the first time in our history we debate our economy with a minority government in office.
This writer attended a parliamentary session last week, and the feeling in the House is interesting. There’s a kind of tension, a sense that no one party can bully another. We’ve had 40-odd years of one party ruling the House like an omnipotent lord over the opposition. For the first time, the parties must come up with a consensus, a formula to embrace and work together.
Speaker Raphael Trotman governs the Chambers with a deep sense of independence. Despite being leader of the opposition Alliance For Change, he is quite open in seeking to distance himself from the affairs on the floor.
Last week he sought compromise, cooperation and conciliation.
Trotman sees his role as important and crucial at this time of our history. He said he plans to make sure the immediate environment of the House gets back to being “sacred” grounds. At last week’s sitting, the streets were freshly painted, insane people were removed and the garbage on the sidewalk disappeared.
He has his hands full to make a clean Stabroek area a permanent state, rather than just a facade when the House sits.
But the Speaker seems genuine and authentic in his efforts to inculcate a new culture in our National Assembly. He has even taken steps to build a ramp in the building to accommodate persons with disabilities accessing Parliament.
So there’s a new, fresh air emanating from the House. And this Budget debate promises to be interesting and full of drama. The nation watches with keen interest.
Apart from Trotman, we are seeing the emergence of leaders of genuine heart and care. Across the political spectrum we see bright young leaders emerging. James Bond, Priya Manickchand, Robert Persaud, and several others are coming into their own.
Talking to any of these is a refreshing experience. Our future looks promising.
Yet, today our country faces extremely challenging times. Our literacy level has dropped to alarming lows. In fact, one report indicates the national literacy rate at around 20 percent. We were once boasting a literacy rate of 98 percent.
With 85 percent of skills migrating, the country faces a real brain drain.
Our nation now stands at a cross-road, and no longer is it up to only Government, or any one organization or Party, to solve the crisis. As Trotman recognizes, we have to reach across divides and perceptions to join hands in working together to design a Guyanese nation that becomes a 21st century success story.
This Budget will test the resolve and commitment of our leaders to the hilt.
But we remain optimistic that at the end, bruised and battered, we will come up with a working formula that would see us start the process of healing, reconciliation and cooperative building over the next year. We have no other choice.
This country suffered over four decades of divisive, selfish, strife-riven leadership.
In fact, this writer spoke with a senior Parliamentarian and member of the opposition last week, and his idea of what constitutes Parliament is shocking, but also revealing.
This gentleman said that the job of the Opposition is to oppose whatever the government proposes. He even said that’s the nature of a Westminster-style Parliament – to constantly oppose.
Talking to him reminds one of the theory of the French thinker, Rene Girard, who said that society fuels a “satanic” force when it stoops to scapegoating. In blindly opposing, we create a scapegoat to beat up on. We expend our energy fighting this scapegoat, and refuse to be creative, magnanimous and embracing. This old-style thinking must give way to the new way.
We cannot build if we demonize the other. The Government and the opposition must stop seeing each other as the scapegoat. It doesn’t work.
For the past four decades the government has made the Opposition the scapegoat, and the Opposition has seen the Government as the scapegoat.
And our Parliament became a hell-hole where each opposing side beat up on the other. The nation suffered from this verbally satanic situation.
So what’s new in 2012 with the tenth Parliament?
Speaker Trotman recognizes that his role is mediator, peacemaker, bridge-builder. And each party has key Parliamentarians who respect this new road, who embrace it and want to see a Guyanese Parliament that works together to draft visions, policies and plans to bring genuine development to the communities around this country.
James Bond came out in public support of Jaya Manickchand being appointed as the first woman commissioner at the Guyana Elections Commission. This is the kind of brilliant leadership and magnanimous reaching out that would heal our nation and lift us to our rightful place in the global village.
This new optimism pervades the corridors of the House.
Yet, this optimism stands in firm tension with a kind of timidity each party feels. No one really wants early national elections. The Opposition is in a financial mess, and unable to raise the kind of financial support to campaign again. The Government just wants to be able to govern without too much hassle.
Since neither side wants the turmoil of new elections, the Budget will be passed, albeit with compromise and cooperation on contentious programmes.
We cannot anymore afford a Parliament based on Government proposing and the Opposition opposing. That kind of thinking is archaic, and unworkable.
We need a paradigm shift, where that cooperative spirit enshrined in our Constitution plays out in our National Assembly. The watchword for the Guyanese nation should always be “cooperative spirit”.
Thankfully, this is exactly the belief and conviction of Speaker Trotman.
He becomes the star of the show from tomorrow as Government tables its new Budget, and engages in what no doubt will be vigorous debate.
As we watch our nation work to build a new future, to re-write and design our country, and to re-build our broken walls, such as the literacy foundation, we hope and pray that the new spirit enshrined in Trotman’s vision of reconciliation and healing will take hold, beginning tomorrow.