Editorial

The travails of PM's travels

Friday, February 14, 2014    

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TO be fair to Prime Minister Simpson Miller and members of her Government, they have been giving the country information on the benefits that Jamaica has derived from their overseas travels. Where we believe the Administration has slipped up a bit is in not having a structured session in the Parliament for sharing the information.

That, we have gathered, is the bone of Opposition Leader Andrew Holness' contention. And Mr Holness said as much on Tuesday in the House. The debate, he reminded parliamentarians and, by extension, the country, was not about "whether or not prime ministers should travel, or are entitled to travel, but that when prime ministers travel they must report to Parliament".

No one can fault Mr Holness for making that demand. For our elected officials, when they travel on official business, are representing us and, in most instances, it is our tax dollars that pay for these trips. As such, they are duty bound to report to the country what they accomplished.

If, as we said, that kind of reporting is structured in the legislature, we suspect that a lot of the discussion around these foreign trips would be focused on their outcomes, rather than their frequency which, in and of itself, is neither here nor there.

Mrs Simpson Miller is correct in pointing out that there are some trips that a head of government, as well as Cabinet ministers, should not avoid, as networking yields better results from person-to-person contact. Many trade, aid and bilateral agreements have their genesis in discussions spawned outside of conference rooms and are most times influenced by personal relationships.

However, the prime minister should not be surprised if Jamaicans, painfully aware of the state of our economy, are critical of the cost of these trips to the country. And like it or not, Opposition politicians are hardly ever strong enough to resist the obvious temptation to score points. Maybe what the Government needs to do, if it isn't already doing so, is to pack into each trip as many opportunities to attract investment as possible, or to conclude bilaterals.

That aside, we must express our dismay at the disgraceful behaviour of parliamentarians in the House on Tuesday when the prime minister answered questions about her travels.

Let us be clear; we don't expect Parliament to be a Sunday school. However, we maintain that debate can be robust, piercing even, without descending into the sort of personal abuse that we saw on Tuesday.

There was a time in the past when our legislators were so proficient in the use of English that they were able to debate issues without being offensive and downright coarse, as now obtains.

Parliamentarians need to remember that they are observed by young people, many of whom will be tomorrow's leaders. As such, the example that legislators set will influence behaviour in the future. We cannot be promoting improvements in values and attitudes while displaying behaviour counter to that which we want the country to accept.

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