At the opening of the First Session of the 12th Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, on August 28, a call was made for Members of Parliament to become trustworthy by President of the Republic, Madam Justice Paula-Mae Weekes.
“Members of the 12th Parliament, I need to ask you a personal question. Can we trust you? I’m asking for a friend. Or more precisely, firstly, for the roughly 658,000 citizens who on August 10 did their civic duty hoping that you prove ready, willing and able to ensure their security, prosperity and future, as well for the rest of the population.
“You all took an oath this morning to conscientiously and impartiality discharge your responsibilities to the people of this nation. The essence of the relationship between Members of Parliament and the public is one of trust, confidence and fidelity. Notwithstanding some significant milestones over the years, the strength of that bond has been eroded by the failure of successive Parliaments to deliver consistently on the reasonable expectations of the populace.
“Your core function is law-making, an essential service in our democracy, one which gives you the power to transform the lives of our citizens and our nation. Each of you seated in these chambers has the primary purpose of conducting the people’s business. Your being here today suggests your willingness to discharge your duties in a thorough and responsible manner and to treat all persons equally,” said the President.
She alerted the 41 MPs and 31 Senators that “whether you arrived via the ballot box or by virtue of selection, it is vital at this time that you have full grasp of your remit and your limitations and are totally committed to the task at hand. That is the only way you will be able to keep the promises inherent in your oath. Can we trust you to measure up to the standards required of high offices?
“You have heard no doubt that with great power come great responsibility. Apart from your legislative function, there are other requirements and expectations of you. I see many new parliamentarians among your number. You will have to mature into your role very quickly. Make no mistake your grace period, if indeed, there was one, was between the election or your appointment and the convening of Parliament today, and from today you are expected to get down to managing the affairs of the public. The novelty of being a parliamentarian is not an acceptable excuse for any shortcomings
“In this form of service, there is no such thing as beyond the call of duty. Be prepared to work selflessly and tirelessly for the duration of your term. It will be a long haul. The Prime Minister’s recent reference to 60 months perhaps put it in its right perspective,” she pleaded
The President continued: “The people who exercised their franchise in your favour want to be assured that they will get value for their vote. ‘They want you to listen to, not just hear, what they are saying, understand their hopes and fears, and bring their concerns to this august body; you are now their power-source, as they were yours, eighteen days ago; they want you to use your time in these chambers to represent their interests, not to engage in frivolous and irrelevant crosstalk; although I do admit that a little well-placed picong can ease the tension,
“Members of Parliament, can we trust you to put aside narrow partisan interests and work together for the good of all? And can we trust the non-partisan Independent bench to remain above the fray and serve the interests of the whole?”
This country’s first female President continued: “Parliamentary debates can sometimes be long and tedious but that does not give you carte blanche to members to become disengaged from the process. How many times has the public been witness to members who were nodding off, engrossed in their phones or otherwise showing no interest in the ongoing debate? However, challenging the process, members of the public expect you to remain alert in order to actively defend their interests.”
She reminded the Parliament of the words of former British politician that trust is earned when action meet words. “By putting yourself forward for election and/or agreeing to be appointed to the Senate, you have spoken. Now is the time for you to act. This afternoon I have asked all the questions, but I invite you to engage in some timely introspection and ask these same questions and others of yourselves and each other.”
Meanwhile at the first sitting, the Public Health (Amendment) Bill was passed. The Bill provides for mandatory wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID -19, and failure to wear face masks citizens could be fined up to $5,000.
The Bill piloted by newly-appointed Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi said that the regulations will now prescribe by way of publications that failure to wear a mask in public will attract a fine of TT $1,000; second offence TT$2,000, and TT$5,000 for a third offence. Al-Rawi stated there will be exceptions like the age of a person, medical condition, physical disability, “or in public circumstances advised by the Chief Medical Officer to guidelines providing for exceptions”.
In his maiden contribution, Saddam Hosein (MP-San Juan/Barataria) denounced the idea because the Public Health Regulations were made without parliamentary oversight.
The Bill was also approved by the Senate, and that in both Houses, the Public Health (Amendment) was passed unanimously.
It is projected that the next sitting of Parliament will be held for the 2020-2021 Budget presentation.