Rum in the House

In the course of reportage on the food bill for sittings of the National Assembly, it has been confirmed that alcohol is being served in the House to Members of Parliament. There is much more information that should be disclosed about this by the Clerk of the National Assembly.

When did the serving of alcohol begin in the precincts of the House, how was the decision made and what is the frequency with which it is available? On the occasions when it is available what is served? Is it local rum? Is imported liquor available? Can MPs order as many drinks as they want? Are the drinks available at the end of the sittings of the Assembly or are they available during the breaks before the resumption of sittings? What is the annual cost to taxpayers for alcohol consumption by MPs? Presumably this information is readily available.

It is recognised that prior to, during and after Parliament, MPs can avail themselves of the numerous rums shops and parlours around public buildings. This, however, is quite different from alcohol being served in the MPs’ lounges on days that parliament sits. The suggestion by Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes that the serving of alcohol can help with “rapport” between members of the two sides in parliament is exactly the type of unelightenedstatement that leads one to wonder at what passes for business in that hallowed chamber.

On a daily basis, the depth of the country’s alcohol problem is easily discernible. Alcoholism is starkly evident in every sphere of society, leading to premature deaths, shattered homes, lost productivity and a whole house of social deformations. Many of the accidents on the roads – fatal and non-fatal – are linked to alcohol abuse. Alcohol is also an underlying trigger in numerous cases of domestic violence that have resulted in murders. It is also a prime factor in the so-called `disorderly behaviour’ murders that occur in and around rum shops and in homes. 

Considering that neither this government nor its predecessor has taken any effective measure to curb alcohol abuse and lessen its toll on families, the disclosure that taxpayers are picking up the tab for their MPs to indulge is a bit too much. It is irresponsible for MPs in the law-making body of the land to be imbibing on Parliament days particularly given the serious alcohol abuse problem that the country faces.

There has been an involved debate over a number of years in the UK about the misbehaviour of MPs who drink in Parliament and the high volume of alcohol sold at bars there. There is annual subsidy to the Parliament for drink and food.

Considering that taxpayers’ money is footing the bill,  MPs should now be made to table a motion in Parliament on the alcohol toll on the people and the economy and set out measures for remediation.  Presumably there would be full bipartisan support for this.

There is a great resistance in this country among policymakers and lawmakers to take alcohol abuse seriously. In 2016, during this newspaper’s work on the scourge of alcohol, the current PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr William Adu-Krow touched on this.

“Alcohol is a major issue; I have raised it several times. Normally the response that I get is that, ‘Oh, we have our world renowned rum and therefore you cannot say too much about alcohol,’” he told Stabroek News.

“Irrespective of if we have the best rum in the world, I think we can do responsible drinking and I think that is an issue we want to bring to the table,” Dr Adu-Krow added.

Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan has implemented a 2 am curfew on bars to help curb the problem but there has been no information from his ministry on whether this has had any influence on the problem that the country faces.

In December 2015, President Granger described alcohol abuse as “one of two evils” that the country has to contain.

“I must be concerned. Yes, I am concerned about alcohol consumption,” he said.

“There are lots of problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption but I would say yes I am concerned and I expect in the fullness of time there will be measures to restrict the consumption of alcohol in order to protect society from the impact,” he asserted.

On December 16 last year, President Granger agreed to Chair the national commission on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which he said were a pressing problem.

According to a release then from the Ministry of the Presidency, he unveiled a three-pronged approach aimed at reducing the incidence of NCDs. The strategy encompassed countrywide public information on the dangers of alcohol and tobacco, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

“The Presidential Commission has a lot of work to do in these three areas and its work will be decisive in determining the extent to which we can enjoy a good life in Guyana… This Presidential Commission on Non-Communicable Diseases can succeed if it is based on better information, more initiatives on the part of all of society and the implementation of campaigns aimed mainly on our children. I would like to see a nation of happier children and healthier communities,” he told the gathering.

While there has been a fair amount of action on tobacco use there has been nothing on the alcohol front.

The consumption of alcohol by MPs on the premises of Public Buildings underlines the disinterest in this matter.  

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