As the Parliament prepares to move to a new building in Calliaqua that will be its temporary home, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday reminded lawmakers that the core values rather, rather than location of Parliament is what matters.
The parliament is being located as the 200-year-old building erected as its home is in urgent need of extensive repair.
Friday, who has been an MP for 22 years, said that politics is not a game and those elected to Parliament should not take it lightly.
He spoke of the “sometimes casual dismissal of the role that we play as if to suggest that somehow it’s not meaningful”.
The opposition leader said that as a Grammar School student, a teacher had baffled him and his classmates when he asked what was one of the most important things that made politicians different from say, doctors or lawyers or engineers, cab drivers, or masons.
“And we couldn’t answer and eventually he said, ‘Well, you don’t need any qualifications for it. You don’t have to have any training,’” Friday said.
He said that in a sense, anybody can become a politician, once they meet the constitutional requirement — being at least 21 years old and able to read and write English.
“… it’s really humbling to see our members from a generation, or a time not so far removed from ours, sitting in the gallery. I am sure I’m bringing back memories of battles fought and battles won, of some bruises taken,” Friday said.
He said that he hoped the former MPs look back with no regrets on the time spent serving the country in the assembly chamber.
“In my time here, I have seen some very high points. I have seen members, I have heard members, extol the virtues that we want to teach the children all the way from kindergarten up to high school and college. We need to have more of those in this honourable chamber.
“This building, as old as it is, carries within its walls echoes of voices from the past that have argued and jousted back and forth, with sometimes great feeling and passion, and even anger at one another,” Friday said.
He said that over time, “we begin to reflect and to judge those moments with the long perspective of history”, adding that for present lawmakers, their history is recorded in the media daily or weekly.
“But we need to acknowledge as well and to understand and to remember, and to always keep ahead of us that which is important in the debates in this chamber.”
The opposition leader said what is important is not what makes lawmakers look good “but rather the good that we do”, adding that the people who elect MPs expect them to represent them.
“… but sometimes, we become so conceited in our own brilliance that we forget to find out from the people what they want us to represent them about.
“And we get carried away in our back and forth. I’ve seen too much of that in my time. And I’m sure previous generations also did so. And this chamber has witnessed that.”
‘embody the values that this chamber is intended to bring’
He said there were also moments when lawmakers elevated themselves. “But we have had some very bleak moments in this chamber as well. … A time, for example, when we could not debate a motion of no confidence in this chamber,” Friday said.
“That too is part of the echo of this hallowed chamber,” he told lawmakers and media audiences.
He was referring to the Jan. 31, 2018 sitting when then House Speaker, Jomo Thomas allowed government lawmakers to change the opposition motion of no confidence in the government into a motion of confidence.
“And wherever we go, it’s only a building. Wherever we go from this one to one in Calliaqua or elsewhere, it’s only a building,” he said.
“The importance of this one is it has a history that is supposed to show us our progression, or at least connect us with that. So, we can feel a sense of continuity and of purpose; to know where we come from to say where we’re going. This reminds us because we are in this space.
“But wherever we go, what is truly important is the extent to which we embody the values that this chamber is intended to bring to the fore. And to keep them constant; not to fall prey to the story of the moment, or the battle of the moment, so that we lose sight of where we’re headed.”
He noted that the prime minister had said that the Parliament was headed to Calliaqua.
“Well, we have further than that to go as a people, as a country, much of that work will be done here in this chamber, whether it’s here, in Calliaqua or elsewhere,” Friday said.
“And to gain the respect of our people that we have to show the respect ourselves because it’s mutual. And I hope that even as we move a little distance here to go to Calliaqua in the temporary chambers, and even that can give us a sense that there is a start for something not new but a reconnection with those ideals.
“So that we could earnestly seek to achieve them, rather than being carried away with partisan, everyday battles that seems so important to us but for the people outside, doesn’t put bread on the table, doesn’t bring them any comfort.
“And for those who tune into Parliament now for entertainment, that tells us how far we have fallen. And I do hope, I know for myself that whatever time I have remaining in this chamber or in Calliaqua, that I can rededicate myself to seeking honestly to achieve those values.”
The opposition leader said he was happy to see members of the Girl Guides in the chambers, adding that he wants them and the youth who were listening elsewhere “to hold me accountable for that”.
Friday noted that the building will not be demolished.
“I hope it’s restored and that it will continue to function and to perform useful work on behalf of our people.
“I actually like this building. I like this occasion and Kingstown, I like it’s across the street, where people can come and protest and exercise their democratic rights. That it’s close to them.
“Even when we’re in government, we might widen the pathway outside so more people could protest if they want to? That is their democratic right.”