I wish to express my sincere apology as a citizen of Guyana, to Mr Jaipaul Sharma, Member of Parliament, for the comment made by our Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand in the National Assembly on Wednesday, April 2. According to reports in the press, during the presentation of APNU MP Volda Lawrence who spoke about men not being held accountable for statutory rape, the Minister heckled that Lawrence should ask her APNU member Sharma about this.
This comment has since been the source of a number of actions which have affected the productivity of the National Assembly in one way or another. It has resulted in the resignation of Mr Jaipaul Sharma, the adjournment of the National Assembly on April 3 and 4, and a massive public debate on ethics and the conduct of leaders among other things.
I am apologising for our Minister, not on behalf of the Minister because that I have no authority to do, but surely if we are of the view that the Minister’s action warrants an apology or the action of any one of our public officials or leaders for that matter, we can apologise for them in good faith.
This apology is based on a principled position; let us analyse not just what the Minister said but where it was said, the relevance of the comment in this instance and the precedent that can be set from allowing the Minister’s comments to go without an apology. The Minister is the Minister of Education and as such, is the role model for our children.
The Minister by virtue of her position and moreso her previous position as Minister of Human Services, would no doubt have privileged information relevant to the comment she made, the question here is, how the Minister or any person in a privileged position uses that information. The Minister is a lawyer by training, and therefore is well aware of how and when privileged information should be used.
The parliament is a ‘neutral space,’ as is the classroom, and we need to protect the neutrality of that space for good reason. The parliament is where our leaders from both sides of the House congregate to address issues of enormous importance to this nation and the people of this country. So our elected leaders have a duty to use this space responsibly and practise emotional sustainability.
About two weeks ago, I was engaging Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman in a discussion on television on the topic of the tenth Parliament, and his plans to build strong social capital in the parliament. This is a clear example of how poor social capital in parliament (poor relations between political parties, lack of respect, lack of a common value system for conducting business in parliament, lack of principles by parliamentarians, etc) can affect other capital, such as economic capital and progress (as in the case of the budget debate) among other things.
I can see this scenario with the Minister in Parliament being played out in a classroom. If a teacher is teaching on a topic of crime and during a lecture on theft, a student remarks “thieving is like what Johnny’s father does,” even if the student has information to suggest that what is being said about Johnny’s father is true, it would be inappropriate for the student to make that remark and the teacher would have a right to reprimand the student. In the circumstances an apology is quite appropriate for the student towards whom the remark was directed. If the student refuses to apologise further disciplinary action should be taken against that student.
However, I can see that student responding that the Minister did the same thing in Parliament and did not apologize, so why should they have to apologise. My point is that whether the Minister apologises or not, I am apologising for my Minister of Education and I would do it for any of our public officials. Our teachers can now say to our students that wrong is wrong and right is right and the citizens of this nation are not indifferent to that.
What is wrong here is not the content of the Minister’s comment but rather the context – the place, the timing and the person to whom it was addressed. Had the minister called a press conference and said the same thing that would have been a different matter. It is against this background that I am apologizing to Mr Jaipaul Sharma for the Minister and I am asking that he accepts this apology, withdraw his resignation and return to the National Assembly, failing which I would appeal to the Minister to apologise to Mr Jaipaul Sharma and show smart leadership so we can continue with the Budget debate and moving this nation forward together!
Nelson Mandela said that the key to being a successful leader is not about being bright but rather about being smart.