Conference a ‘missed opportunity’
If they don’t want to become irrelevant, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has urged elected leaders across the Caribbean to get their message to the public using multiple forms of communication.
Mr. William Shija’s comments came during the CPA’s regional meeting held last week in Cayman.
‘I would allege that 60 to 70 per cent of ordinary people…do not know exactly the role of a parliamentarian,’ Mr. Shija told the group of delegates who gathered from all over the Caribbean.
‘Sometimes the public, after electing us, comes up…and says ‘oh geez, these guys are just sitting and we don’t see how effective they are,” Mr. Shija said. ‘It may be because we do not communicate enough.’
The Cayman Islands group People for Referendum called the conference a ‘missed opportunity’ for open communication after group members were denied the right to attend CPA sessions.
‘There are issues that you want…wide and frank discussion on,’ said group President Dennie Warren. ‘I think the general public should be able to come in and…learn more about the topics being discussed.’
‘One of the things that was discussed (at the conference) was independence. I’m not suggesting that the Cayman Islands go independent, but I think it’s a healthy discussion to have…because I think that’s an issue we’ll have to face down the road.’
Mr. Shija said during his address that civic education was important, but he said the content of that message must be made easy to understand and accessible to the general public.
‘For example, why do we care that you participated in an HIV/AIDS seminar? That must be simplified and put into the public view,’ he said.
‘There are a number of examples that surround us as to what happens when you have a large percentage of your population not understanding issues,’ Mr. Warren said. ‘And to have someone left out of the discussion, except for the filtered information…is unfair.’
Mr. Warren asked conference officials about public attendance but he said he was told it wasn’t something that’s done.
CPA organising committee chairman, MLA Alfonso Wright, said Mr. Warren did ask him about attending the conference and whether he could take pictures. However, Mr. Wright said Mr. Warren never mentioned the People for Referendum group in that conversation.
‘It’s a CPA conference, it’s for parliamentarians,’ Mr. Wright said. ‘He (Mr. Warren) didn’t tell me he was representing anyone.’
Mr. Wright said reporters were allowed to attend the conference along with select invitees, which included a group of junior parliamentarians from Cayman.
The conference debates took place during the day, and Mr. Warren conceded most working people likely wouldn’t have time to attend for long periods of discussion.
‘I don’t think a tremendous amount of people would go and listen, that is, initially,’ he said. ‘The reason I think it will play out that way is because previous governments have done a good job of having the general populace believe that all we should really do is elect politicians, and then politicians will act.’
‘It has led to what I would consider mass ignorance of not only how our political systems work, but also what the issues are.’
Mr. Shija noted the particular forms of public communication used can be just as important as the message itself. He said the CPA generally publishes four magazines about its activities a year, but he’s concerned the publication is not reaching a wider audience.
He worried government activities in general are not registering with the younger generation because leaders are not using the full range of media available.
‘With the youth that we have…who must be leaders in the future, we must get a way of crossing over to them in order for them to begin to learn about leadership,’ Mr. Shija said.
‘They go for the electronic media,’ he said. ‘Where are we in the electronic media? We must cross over to the electronic media in order for us to continue to be relevant.’