When Shakespeare opined that “all the world’s a stage,” he couldn’t have anticipated that the elected members of the Legislative Assembly would take him literally.
And yet, if anyone was surfing the airwaves Monday and happened to pause on the Cayman Islands Government Television channel (a long way, indeed, in time and place from the Bard’s Globe Theatre in London), they might have witnessed Education Minister Tara Rivers delivering an hour-long political soliloquy — a stump speech, actually.
The content of the speech (let’s be frank) was utterly unremarkable. What was noteworthy, however, was the venue — the floor of the Legislative Assembly.
In this instance, Minister Rivers used the proposed Procurement Bill as a staging area from which to launch a verbal assault upon an individual who wasn’t there to defend himself, former Education Minister Rolston Anglin, who is a potential opponent for Minister Rivers in the district of West Bay.
In regard to the subject of her oral dissertation, the construction of Clifton Hunter High School, we will simply say that the project was fraught with bad ideas, even worse execution and a complete lack of fiscal restraint, from conception to completion, spanning multiple governments, including both major parties.
If Minister Rivers had been content to leave her remarks at that, it would have constituted fair comment. Instead, she elaborated, expostulated and excoriated Mr. Anglin, in particular, rendering her oration off-topic, unfair and unworthy of a parliamentary discussion. We do not understand why House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly did not put a halt to this.
That being said, this sort of behavior is far from being limited to Minister Rivers. In fact, all too often, Cayman lawmakers misuse the sanctum of the “People’s House” in order to abuse their personal and political opponents. At other times, legislators meander through less-splenetic but just as irrelevant territory in their floor speeches, for example using their time at the microphone to complain that this cousin, or this constituent, wasn’t hired for this or that position in the public service.
We understand the concept of “parliamentary privilege” enables lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly to say just about anything they want — no matter how libelous, factually incorrect or inflammatory — behind a nearly impenetrable shield of legal immunity. But just because they can doesn’t mean they should.
Compounding the offense, and the offensiveness, is that the lawmakers’ words and actions are being broadcast via government-owned media entities, for example CIG-TV and Radio Cayman, for direct public consumption (at the taxpayers’ expense, of course).
While there no doubt is value in ensuring that Cayman’s population has a “live feed” of their lawmakers creating government policy, that ideal is corrupted when government media are instead used as megaphones to amplify shameless electioneering by the incumbents.
As we pointed out in an earlier editorial, this session of the Legislative Assembly is jammed with dozens of bills, many of them complex, technical and substantive. If the Progressives government is truly intent on holding meaningful discussion on these myriads of pages of legislation, then the proceedings must be disciplined, germane and with little time carved out even for lunch breaks. Each minute of this session should be deemed precious, not adjudged as an opportunity for political blather, invective and vitriol.
Our elected members must understand that the Legislative Assembly (and Radio Cayman, and CIG-TV) are arenas for the discussion of public policy — not a stage, podium or platform to defame their opponents with the goal of getting themselves re-elected.