It was an uninspiring budget debate (2023), I was there for several sessions and tuned in to some broadcasts otherwise. Watching or listening to the budget debate was painful, somewhat of a useless exercise.
The debate, really not a debate but largely an uninformed largely irrelevant insipid response, was very dull and unstimulating. Some of the presentations were dismally boring. Some of the speakers were uncharismatic, dour and morose. Others were too stern. There was few stand out funny comments like from debates of the 1970s and 11980s. There was plenty of heckling, actually rabble rousing, and some debaters were quite nasty that don’t belong in a parliament. Some of the debaters were too combative,
pugnacious, and antagonistic. Some of the heckling was very feisty, reminding me of behavior at the fish market.
The Speaker on the whole did a very good job in ignoring some comments from non-presenters (hecklers and rabble rousers). And he appropriately pulled up some ‘debaters’ who were too personal, requesting their retraction. Aspects of the heckling coarse revealed a low civility in politics. Debaters were interrupted or drowned out multiple times by jeering and accusations or allegations. Some were downright nasty and unparliamentary. Chorus of heckling occasionally drowned out the presenter.
After a very good delivery of the budget by the Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh, the response from both sides was not up to mark. A professor in a speech class would fail them. Dr Singh was courteous and focused in unveiling the budget and in closing it. Too many debaters (MPs) strayed from the items in the budget. They spoke of everything but what was in the budget. Some of the MPs, like the Prime Minister (Mark Phillips), Roysdale Forde, Anil Nandlall, Volda Lawrence, Golin Croal, Ganesh Mahipaul, Gail Texeira, Sherrod Duncan, Ronald Cox, Susan Rodrigues, Ronald Cox, Vindya Persaud, Natasha Singh Lewis, Priya Manickchand, Prakash Ramjattan, Bishop Edghil, Amanza Walton-Desir, Vickram Bharrat, Zulfi Mustapha, Lennox Shuman, Indar Deodat, Geeta Chandon, and a few others, were on point. Their remarks focused on elements in the budget rather than strayed from their remit. Nandlall was his charismatic self. The Vice President was missed for his usually erudite penetrating comments as in previous budgets; the public commented that they missed his soaring presentation on the state of the economy and growing it. Apparently, the VP wishes to stay above the fray, but his PPP supporters love to hear him. The Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton also delivered some good punch lines in his rebuttal, honing in on the budget rather than on alien issues which characterized the presentations of some of his colleagues; he did not allow the heckling and rabble rousing to distract him.
But most of the presentations did not rise to an informed discussion to win over the public. A budget debate is meant to win over the public with sound, reasoned arguments to items in the budget exposing flaws or weaknesses or waste (opposition) or buttressing (government) their importance. Hardly anyone I interacted with in the public domain was swayed by arguments from presenters on both sides on items in the budget. There were few statements and pointers or anecdotes (except two from the AG about sardines and clapping roti – that evoked laughter) that left an indelible mark on viewers or listeners. The presentations lacked the intellect, sharpness, wit, and humour of a Feroze Mohamed, Clinton Collymore, Forbes Burnham, Narbada Persaud, Hubert Jack, Cheddi Jagan, Cammie Ramsaroop, Winston Murray, Mohammed Shahabudeen, Fenton Ramsahoye, among other stalwarts. During the golden years of parliamentary presentation, Burnham, Narbada, and Boysie, among others, sliced their opponents with ingenious facetious one liners (shrewd, clever, wily, amusing, sharp-witted, jocular snide remarks) or what are called picong in Trinidad; these carried sarcasm that evoked much laugher and memorable. None of the kind was presented during the recent debate. One can’t point to much by the presenters that would be remembered for years to come. However, one good outcome of the debate was it had none of the nastiness of 2021 and 2022.
Both sides have MPs who lack skill in debates. The parties would do well to train or school their MPs how to debate and more particularly how to respond to future budgets — stick to line items in the budget. They may want to look at or listen to past recordings of presenters during the halcyon days of parliament in the 1960s thru 1980s. They can also takes courses on the art of rhetoric or oratory.