The National Assembly has just concluded another budget debate. I am very saddened at the level of debate that the ruling party members prefer to maintain year in, year out. Instead of addressing real issues that our country is facing, this year again they allowed themselves to be stuck in insults, personal attacks, lies and pure arrogance.
I will proudly say that the SNP team did this country justice by addressing the real issues of social ills, cost of living, the water problem and other relevant economic issues. They need to be commended because what they did went in the national interest. The SNP talked about issues which, if our country has the courage to tackle, will surely help it move forward.
On many occasions I have addressed the issue of the level of debate in the House. Whenever I do so, it is for no reason except to see how such an important institution in our democracy can play its full role in the country’s development. As one of the three main branches of government, it is our responsibility as representatives of the people, to bring forward their views, question government, and above all play the oversight role. In this task, there is no place for insults and arrogance.
As one member pointed out, in a budget debate, ideas are presented, discussed and looked at from different angles. Political parties will have their own views on different issues. At times they may converge, whereas at other times they will differ. But there is nothing wrong in agreeing to disagree. Unfortunately, too often, our friends on the other side fail to understand that parliament was set up in order to rid society of wars and deaths. You sometimes wonder whether they would not wish for a duel, with the winner carrying off the head of the opponent.
When we consider raising standards, we are also aspiring to greater political maturity and transparency. When ideas can be properly debated, our people will follow the arguments and feel part of the debate. When facts are well presented in a debate, the people feel empowered because they know what is happening, and they are placed in a better position to decide the direction they want to see their country move in. When debates are about ideas and strategies, the country comes out the winner. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before this can happen.
This leads me once more to talk about the independent referee. As long as the referee is not independent and impartial, but has vested interest in what is happening, it will be difficult to raise standards. When the referee is also the coach and sometimes a player, because he knows the game strategy, we will not rise to greater heights. Our democracy needs to make that change immediately, and then we will see the difference that this will bring with it.
It is acceptable that in a parliament, there at times when you will have heated debates, especially when the topic is an important one. The budget is one of those occasions. Our deep passion for whatever issue cannot allow anyone to go off track into the realm of personal insults. This is where members must be guided by the independent referee and made to remain on track. An exciting football match ends with players shaking hands, exchanging jerseys and congratulating the officials. Why can this not happen in parliament as well?
Our country should always take priority over whatever personal problems we have with anyone. The National Assembly is the place to resolve national issues and not personal ones. I hope that next year we may start the National Assembly with a more civilised debate over ideas. I wish that the 2011 presidential election will not be an excuse for a further degradation of the level of debate. Politicians have to support their candidate and party, but surely we can do this by respecting our people and conducting ourselves in a way that will help edify everyone, instead of letting the institution down.