Youth Parliament 2011 catches election fever

This year’s youth parliamentarians.

Some believe the National Youth Council construct of Youth Parliament was best.  Others call the new era of Youth Parliament refreshing.  I still have my reservations on both having participated for the last two years.
I hadn’t participated in Youth Parliament while NYC planned it so I can only speak on Youth Parliament in the recent past.  While I fully support the effort and believe that Youth Parliament should be held at least on a quarterly basis instead of annually, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out.  Under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Social Transformation, Youth and Sports, a commendable amount of resources were put into the venture including auditioning participants, sourcing mentors, training participants in the art of public speaking and speech writing and liaising with the Office of Parliament to ensure a productive House of Assembly and Senate meeting.
However, it still feels like the event is a rushed after thought, much like the preparations for Youth Month in April.  Auditions were held on July 22 and 23.  The first training session was held on August 4 and 5.  The motion was given during the second week in August and the debates were held on August 25 and 26.  Needless to say, the damp Youth and Sports conference room at Barnard Hill is not conducive for breathing much less working and holding training sessions.
Youth Parliament is supposed to serve as a vessel for constructive debate on societal issues without fear or favor, without party colours or political victimization, for the development of our society.    We debate policy- its successes, failures and enhancements.  We do not debate administrations.   We have no youth government.  We are given an opportunity that very few are privileged to have-we speak nationally for our youth.  We sit in those cushy chairs hoping that one day we can make a difference. We are political but not partisan.
In recent times, Youth Parliament has engaged in relevant debates on issues of the day.  Last year’s issue dealt with computer misuse and cyber crime: the importance of legislation, the kinds of legislation, challenges faced in implementing such legislation and the social implications.  This year, the issue was unemployment.
The motion reads as follows, “Whereas, the perennial problem of unemployment has been significant in the Youth population of the islands in the Caribbean and that this situation has been recognised as critical requiring the immediate intervention of the various Governments and other agencies;
And whereas in the case of Saint Lucia, it has been reported by the CARICOM Commission on the Youth that it cost 2.46 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of which female youth unemployment cost million USD 14.34 (0.89 percent GDP), male unemployment cost 25.15 million USD (1.56 percent GDP);
And whereas the root cause of this crisis can be identified from the apparent lack of commitment to a national strategy to stimulate and sustain the necessary economic activity that will encourage enterprise and entrepreneurship; And whereas this cause is further encouraged by the obvious failure in the Government’s commitment to a policy relevant and necessary to encourage educational and technical programs and opportunities that will assist the economic activity;
And whereas if that root cause is not addressed immediately it will further endanger the prospects for the unskilled and inexperienced to acquire a skill placing them at a distinct disadvantage to enter and satisfy the labour market.
Be it resolved that Her Majesty’s Opposition hereby demand this Government to take all immediate and appropriate steps to introduce measures to make accessible educational programs and opportunities that will promote learning opportunities and to support its use by the Citizens of Saint Lucia.”
The discussion, which was full of facts and figures, was repetitive at times, sporadically lacked depth of thought and luster but the silver tongues, ingenuity and perspective of the youth lent an air of intrigue to the overall debate.
I must say, unfortunately, I was disappointed that my colleagues began imbuing the personas of the very characters whose seats they were in.  There were utterances of “my government did . . .” and “when you were in government . . . ” and “don’t worry, better days are coming” and “you will not win this election” leaving me baffled because to my knowledge we have no youth government, we have no youth candidates and we have no youth elections!  Youth Parliament is not a campaign tool.
Interestingly enough, the start of the debate gave no indication this would be the acceptant trend.  Jonathan Charles proposed the motion as Leader of the Opposition and confessed he was torn while preparing his presentation as his mother is the ruling party’s candidate for Vieux Fort North.  He performed exceptionally, doing justice to the motion.
What was disturbing were the complaints brought to my attention by members of one team.  On a side note, in Youth Parliament there are three teams: one assigned in favor of the motion, one assigned against the motion and one who have the choice to vote either for or against (independent).
Apparently, one team called a meeting to dictate to its members where to vote.  This is against the principles of Youth Parliament which encourages individual thought by allowing each member, regardless of team, to vote where he/she sees fit after weighing all the arguments.
It was refreshing to see the level of interest and support this year’s Youth Parliament generated.  MPs past and present made an effort to speak to the youth parliamentarians, giving an insight into St Lucia’s political arena and airing their likes and dislikes of parliamentary procedures and governance.
The St Lucia Labour Party Gros Islet hopeful Emma Hippolyte joined Jeannine Compton-Antoine (who is a regular fixture at Youth Parliament) for the two days of debate.
Prime Minister Stephenson King attended the opening session while National Security Minister Guy Mayers tried to catch as much of the debate as possible.  SLP’s Lorne Theophilus and Stanley Felix caught the closing end of the Senate presentation on Day Two.

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