Temper your expectations of us, MPs tell constituents
TUFTON... there is a perception that somehow we have a solution to every problem

MEMBERS of Parliament, while admitting that they may have caused the unrealistic expectations their constituents have of them, particularly during political campaigning, are imploring the people they represent to temper those expectations.

This is in light of the Government's move to create a job description for MPs following the tabling of a Green Paper in Parliament in June by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. He also tabled a White Paper detailing the job description for Cabinet members. Both documents are now before a joint select committee for review.

At Tuesday's meeting of that committee MP for St Catherine West Central Dr Christopher Tufton headed the list of MPs on both sides of the aisle who believe too much is expected of them and that there needs to be a shift in the perception of constituents.

"Members of Parliament provide a multiplicity of functions. For those of us who have been there, we are social workers (primarily), lawyers, and counsellors. We do everything, from marriage counselling to poverty alleviation, and there is a perception that somehow we have a solution to every problem — particularly when it is resource-based — and it is so far from the truth," he said.

Dr Tufton, who is also minister of health and wellness, said he believes one of the problems which has led to the establishment of the committee is the extent to which there is fatigue, and some amount of cynicism, around political representation.

"If we're honest with ourselves, it is true — our credibility is under serious question because we are judged on a particular level of being a social worker and everything for everybody. And we fall very short, not necessarily because of a lack of effort but just a lack of resources.

"I think the way to restore that credibility, from a job description perspective as a guide, is to realign those expectations of the people versus the representative," he said.

Dr Tufton noted, however, that much effort will be required to realign expectations around what an MP does "because there is a totally different view by the populace, and it is in our interest to do that. It's part of our credibility restoration process".

He suggested that outside of trying to list what the expectations are of an MP, there should also be a second list of "what an MP is not".

"An MP is not a lot of things, and there's a perception that an MP is everything and must be everything to everybody. Sometimes we cause it on ourselves, that's true, because we create the hope, and sometimes the hope is well beyond what is reasonable to expect on an implementation schedule.

Opposition committee member and MP for St Andrew South Eastern, Julian Robinson concurred that the negative public perception of MPs is largely driven by "unrealistic expectations, some of which some of us create because we make promises on the campaign trail [that are] largely driven by unrealistic expectations that people have of representatives, and when those expectations are not fulfilled then the cynicism is almost cemented, and it has existed over many years".

"We don't explain limitations when we campaign, we don't, none of us do, because we want votes. But the reality is: What we can realistically do within the resources that are provided to us is very different from what our constituents expect," he said.

He suggested that public education continues in indicating to people what resources MPs have, what they are able to do, and what agencies should be doing — versus what MPs do.

MP for St Andrew East Rural and House Speaker Juliet Holness also agreed that it is MPs who have created negative perceptions of themselves.

"When we sit in here and we talk, and even on the campaign trail, the way we speak have created a sense in people that we are dishonest, that we are corrupt, that we are thieves — and we are comfortable with it, not understanding that over time it is a nasty paint painting all of us," she said.

Holness said that she took a different approach when she campaigned in her constituency by educating people about the Government works, not making promises that cannot be fulfilled due to limited resources.

"I've spent the last seven years explaining to my constituents this is how the Government works…The people are not stupid, they actually understand, and if we would have enough in terms of public education and support from each other it means that that is a message that will transcend Jamaica very, very quickly," she said.

She suggested that if MPs take on the responsibility to explain the workings of Government, what the resources are for, what it can do, what it can't do, "it would augur very well for us in terms of the perception of our performance as Members of Parliament".

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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