Cook Two Day Parliamentary Sitting A ‘Waste Of Time’

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Cook Islands News

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Dec. 21, 2015) – Parliament sat and rose after two measly days of sitting. It would be fair to say, it was simply a waste of time.

Most clear from those days were messages of condolences, congratulations and Christmas and New Year greetings.

Condolences were even extended by a Minister to a fellow Minister’s father who died a couple of years ago. It was puzzling as to why that was so? Bizarre, isn’t it?

The debates on business tabled had no value other than just to go through the motions of legislative passage.

The speeches and responses by the Prime Minister were predictable and delivered by a person seemingly in a state of rigor mortis.

They were dull, weary and tiresome. No life or motivation or hope flows from him.

If I was right with hollowness and sullenness being the theme of that Parliament, at least the Minister of Finance attempted to inject some life into his Government’s record.

Some may disagree that in fact, it had the opposite effect. Instead he desecrated the status of Government with his arrogance and one-sided account of events.

A little humility may well go a long way but no, not the impish silver-tongued Minister. I think he’s been spending far too long a time in the glass house that he cannot see his own and his Government’s imperfections.

Watching from the outside and only after two years away from Parliament I can say with confidence that the standard of the House has dramatically declined.

It seems no longer to be the institution that was supposed to house the principles of democracy.

Instead it was used and shaped by the Government as a way to propel a social need – an outlet for MP’s to convey their Christmas and New Year wishes to their constituency and to every other person they wish to greet.

Well, that’s one observation; the other is that, Government makes it feel like that it is a social obligation to at least convene Parliament.

Perhaps the thinking there is that, if PM Puna ticks that event off, the public will at least be refrained from accusing him of not calling Parliament into session.

Honestly, in my view this last Parliament sitting was an example of the decaying adherence to the way that Parliament operates.

That decay is caused by us, all of us members of the public because we allowed it to be. We are not vocal enough and we do not fully understand what our Parliamentary system is really like and what it is it for.

I noticed this after 12 years in Parliament; that MPs of both sides of the House have very little understanding of Parliament and its role in our society.

There’s very little understanding that it is independent from the Government although the Government is its so called trigger mechanism. Therein lays a huge problem.

MPs and even staff of the House think that Parliament is the Government, or a manifestation of the Government so you treat it as you would do things that Government does in daily administration.

The outcome of that is the Government believes that it is more effective not sitting because of the antiquated procedures and protocols.

Instead it can get on with the Executive arm of Government administering the country and even to the point of enabling funding by orders of the Executive Council instead of passing it by legislation.

I have to say that this decay is not a new thing. I have noticed it in several administrations where the focus is on running the country rather debating about it.

And of course, it is also to ensure that the numbers to govern is secured given the nimbleness in the Government’s majority. Jim Marurai’s Democratic Party Government in his seven years of Prime Ministership hardly sat.

But his reasons are different from Henry Puna’s or maybe not at all.

PM Jim Marurai – and even PM Robert Woonton for that matter – could not call Parliament for fear of votes of no-confidence being moved against them.

Henry Puna may have the same fear but it should not be when he has a bunch of weaklings, who could not even muster a disagreement with him

I used to fight all the time with my own Demo team in Government and even with Sir Geoffrey Henry when I was in the CIP with him as Leader.

That’s because as an MP, I felt it my duty not just to agree with people that makes decisions for me without consulting me or at least giving me an opportunity to be informed about them.

I bet you all of the Government MP’s have no idea what’s going on with the Government but they do not rock the boat for their own job security and survival.

Simply put, they are blind most of the time but even if awakened they will tow the party line even if it is wrong.

That’s why I say that Parliament is now a social event notice board.

It does not help when the Speaker makes it an obligatory undertaking to announce notices of events amongst many other social activities.

Sometimes I feel she needs to be read the proper rules of what a Chairman does at a meeting and that is to convene the meeting; not become the primary "debater".

But why should we blame her? The invitation for her to steer Parliament is such a direction is because the "proper business" of the House is meagre, secondary and matter of fact. And sitting days are few and far in between

Best wishes to all during the festive season.

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