Thoughts on MPs sleeping in parliament

The Royal Gazette asked for my thoughts on MPs sleeping in parliament but unfortunately I didn’t respond in time for publication.

Seeing as I haven’t posted recently I thought it best to post my responses.

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1. Generally speaking, do issues such as MPs sleeping on the job and legislation beingtabled and debated on the same day represent serious problems with Parliament to you?

MPs sleeping in parliament suggests our parliamentary system is not as effective as it should be. The idea that parliamentary debates run as marathon sessions into all hours of the morning is a symptom of a broken system.

Legislation being tabled and rushed through in the same day simply doesn’t provide transparency to the people on changes. There is no chance for the average individual to review the legislation and provide feedback or comment on it and there is limited opportunity for politicians who have not had access to the changes to review and effectively comment on it. The legislation in this case may have been benign however it sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. What if the airport legislation had been passed this way?

2. Is the current Westminster system used in Bermuda the system we should be using? Is it at all antiquated?

The Westminster system was designed for a time when knowledge and communications were limited. The people would elect representatives with whom interactions were somewhat rare. The people’s opportunities to be informed on larger issues were also limited. Thus, representatives would spend time informing themselves on issues as best they could and then verbally duel to see who could procure a stronger argument.

Today however, the average individual holds more access to knowledge and potential for communications in their pocket than most global leaders have had access to throughout history. Democracy has transformed to become more participatory where representatives have gone from interacting with the people a handful of times during a parliamentary term to almost daily. The people often have access to much of the same information that our representatives do allowing far more to be wholly informed.

The spectrum of public discourse and involvement has changed drastically with the advent of the internet. Thus, the roles and responsibilities of our representatives under the original Westminster system are no longeraligned with their original purpose. Our representatives need to transition from being expected to have all the answers and adept at dueling. The role is changing to one where they need to be more empowering and a mouthpiece of the people they represent.

The trouble is that we haven’t figured out how to upgrade our democratic system to match modern times.

The ineffectiveness of our democracy systems isn’t just a Bermudian challenge but a global one. Until we figure out how to improve this, we will struggle with declining trust in our representatives to do their jobseffectively.

3. What, if anything, should be done to prevent lengthy Parliament sessions – suchas Friday’s which lasted until nearly 3am? Is it about MPs speaking only on issues where they add something of worth to the debate? Is it about the Speaker keeping MPs on track?

Perhaps Parliamentary debate has outlived its usefulness? It isn’t as if we try to win at cyber warfare by engaging in swordfights. Why then do we try to govern our island by way of verbal dual? Is this really the most effective means to govern in the modern age?

4. On Friday, Dennis Lister, the Speaker, blasted MPs for acting like a “classroom of schoolchildren” after images surfaced on sleeping MPs in the House. What was your immediate reaction when you saw those pictures?

Dismay at what it indicates of the effectiveness of our present parliamentary system.

5. Mr. Lister said he had “no issue” with members that seem to have closed their eyesfor a moment – and that the real problem was the picture taking. Do you agree? Do you think Mr. Lister’s message at all fails to hold MPs to account for their behavior?

Our politicians are human and expecting someone to stay awake until the early hours of the morning in marathon sessions is frankly ridiculous. Hiding this truth doesn’t fix anything and just means our leaders are anxious to deceive the people of what really is happening. Banning electronic devices is just a deceptive way of hiding the truth.

More discussion is needed on why it happens, especially on both sides, and whether parliament is effective. Are politicians paid to sit in their seats for a set duration or to get things done? That kind of discussion will never happen as long as we rely on archaic technology bans and trying to hide the truth.

How can we honestly expect to have informed debates if you are restricted from looking up anything on the internet? How can politicians stay connected to their constituents, empower them and keep them informed if they are restricted from the internet while in the house?

6. Is there anything you would like to see specifically addressed or changed with regards to proceedings when Parliament resumes in November?
We should eliminate the electronic devices ban, introduce video live streams of parliament and start discussions on whether parliamentary processes need to be updated.