01 October 2008

Role of the Opposition

I see that I haven't posted a new entry in my blog for almost two weeks! Must have been slacking... have no fear though, I have a whole slew of fascinating topics lined up to post on for you.

Today's juicy article is on the role of the opposition in the parliamentary system. I found these papers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) that outline some ways to think about the opposition. You can find even more materials and papers if you Google for "CPA Role of the Opposition".

The CPA is an organization for Parliamentarians around the world to exchange ideas about how to be better governments within a parliamentary system.

Here are some key points from the CPA materials:

  • Society and the Government have to agree that there is an important role for the Opposition.
  • The Opposition needs resources to do its job (e.g. access to research).
  • There should be a "culture of accountability" [think, e.g. of Government responses or lack thereof to Parliamentary Questions].
  • The opposition has to be seen as a credible alternate Government -- i.e. has to be seen as able to develop policies and govern successfully.
  • Government and the Opposition should be able to work together behind the scenes, e.g. in producing good legislation.
  • The opposition needs to remain in contact & communication with society.
  • "...although MPs are increasingly concerned with constituency business the work of making, amending and repealing laws is central to their task and that, while the initiator of legislation is usually the governing party, the Opposition can have an important role".

I have a strong opinion about that last point. Too many MPs in opposition, and especially our current Government, seems to think and act as if their main job is to get re-elected. In fact, that is not their jawb at all! Their jawb is to make Bermuda a better place: put in policies to lift up those at the bottom of society, make sure we are all well educated, make sure we all have access to economic success, if we choose to work for it, etc.

Sometimes that means making hard decisions which may require long-term thinking to see payoffs. Or, eating humble pie and engaging in the political art of compromise and discussion to get things done.

Let me list a few concrete examples where the current PLP Government has failed to do this, preferring instead to spin their way from crisis to crisis:

  • Education: 18 months later, and what's happening? Teachers not getting paid and the Bermuda Union of Teachers still shut out of the reform process.
  • Crime: Run an election campaign that calls your opponent too tough on crime, and then turn around and start talking about SWAT teams. And, still don't bother to negotiate a contract with the Police, your front-line against crime.
  • Housing: promise homes in lotteries, but don't bother building them for 4 years.
  • Tourism: Crow that air arrivals are flat rather than down, even though tourist arrivals are down 9%.

I'd continue but it's shooting fish in a barrel.

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