Parliament ought to be the purest materialisation of democracy in a country, Guyana included. It is the national forum in which the electorate is represented in political diversity, where laws are deliberated and the country’s future is planned. Because of the central role and importance Parliament occupies in shaping our country’s future, one would expect that it provides for educated and intelligent debate and exchanges, crafted by women and men who respect the diversities represented through the polities on both sides of the House. In Guyana, this seems to be a far-fetched ideal, questioning the very honour attached to parliamentarians’ titles.
We were recently forced to watch Minister Simona Broomes use Parliament as a stage to broadcast a national insult to the Opposition Leader and by extent the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s electorate, before Minister Keith Scott stood before the House and unapologetically accused Guyana’s First Peoples of being “avaricious”. Last week, it was Minister Volda Lawrence’s turn to disgrace the House as she publicly offered a bag of grass to an Opposition MP, Cornel Damon, to “snack” on. One can deduct that Lawrence thought Damon was no better than an animal and had no qualms reinforcing that belief irrespective of the fact that she was affronting the electorate who he was representing.
As Parliament continued to set the pace for a dance of the grotesque, Minister Nicolette Henry took to the podium to put on a show. Minister Henry indicated that she was not a “chatree” (she meant of the Kshatriya caste native to India and not Guyana) and therefore was not obliged to distinguish between Phagwah and Diwali. The backlash she triggered from the Indian and Hindu communities, and from those who actually believe in a socially cohesive and united nation, is not without merit. While most were willing to forgive her for her inability to distinguish between two of the longstanding national holidays in Guyana – something we’ve learnt throughout our primary school years and from living in a culturally diverse society – her arrogance left them dumbfounded before stirring anger and incomprehension. Understandably so.
Several conclusions can be drawn from Minister Henry’s reckless utterance; the first being that she lacks the cultural sensitivity required of a Minister or anyone holding seat in the House, tasked with the responsibility of governing a country. Then, considering that there is little correlation between being of the Kshatriya caste and being unable to tell the difference between Phagwah and Diwali, her statement can be interpreted as ethnically insensitive to Guyanese of Indian ancestry, and more so Hindus. Interestingly, Minister Henry currently benefits from a GY$3 million scholarship funded by tax dollars. One would therefore expect that she would have been more knowledgeable than a Grade Two pupil when it comes to national holidays and their meanings, but also more sensitive towards and protection of Guyana’s rich cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversities.
As if the Parliament hadn’t suffered enough humiliation in the span of a week, a troubling security breach – potentially life threatening – left the nation gasping in shock. We are all waiting for clarity as to how a Minister’s secretary disguised as Santa Claus, got past what ought to be staunch security, penetrated the chamber and proceeded to address the House while delivering a hostile message to the Opposition Leader. If the Government of Guyana has any respect for the people it serves and the House which represents their interests, then the secretary in question must be removed and judged by the law for threatening the safety of elected representatives. Her subject Minister must be made publicly accountable and provide a much due apology to the people, the Opposition and the House. Just as important, those responsible for guaranteeing the security of elected leaders and representatives on the premises must account for this security breach, and security measures and protocols must be reinforced henceforth and kept up to standard.
Government Ministers and parliamentarians are today guilty of having stripped the House of its dignity and credibility. If a democracy cannot rely on its Parliament to set a non-partisan example and on its parliamentarians to lead by example, then to whom should it look for guidance?