To be a member of parliament and thus an elected official is not a position to be trivialised or taken for granted. It is a privilege that carries serious responsibilities by the one so elected. Election to the JamaicanParliament carries no less a responsibility for those who are privileged to make far-reaching decisions that will affect the lives of all Jamaicans.
It is in this regard that the recent diatribe against the homosexual community by Mr Ernest Smith, the MP for South West St Ann, is to be seen. Mr Smith is not a newcomer to Parliament, and even if he were a newcomer his rant against that community would be hardly forgivable. By his own words, Mr Smith expressed alarm at the growing influence of that community, their legitimacy to hold firearms and that the Jamaica Constabulary Force, from what he saw in a newspaper, is “overrun” by homosexuals.
As a lawyer, Mr Smith knows that these views so irresponsibly stated with reckless disregard for the facts, could not be spoken outside of the protective confines of Parliament. As a lawyer, he should have more than a visceral concern for truth and not allow his professional ethics to be sullied by what appear to be statements that he obviously has not investigated and on whose authority truth is emasculated.
He knows that the privilege he enjoys as a parliamentarian can allow him and others to speak all kinds of foolishness without any fear of being hauled before the courts. Indeed, the Parliament of Jamaica has been used and abused by parliamentarians to vent their personal hatred and impugn the reputation of individuals and institutions with which they have a personal peeve. Parliament is no longer seen as a medium for intelligent discourse about the nation’s business.
What should be robust and vigorous debate often descends into juvenile heckling and infantile bluster. It has become a place of entertainment, but the laugh really is on the people of Jamaica.
In a homophobic society as Jamaica, Mr Smith’s rant can serve to reinforce the hatred that many Jamaicans express toward this community. In fact, in some jurisdictions, his rant would be interpreted as hate speech punishable by law. But then again, Mr Smith knows that his statements in Parliament are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is time that this policy is re-examined, for no one should easily sully the reputation of any individual or institution in Jamaica and not face prosecution by the laws of the land.
Whatever one may think of homosexuals (and let me fairly disclose that I am not one and have never had any inclinations to be one), the rights of a Jamaican citizen to bear firearms, to freely assemble and form organisations should not be predicated on his or her sexual preferences.
The ability to protect oneself and property is a constitutional guarantee that should be open to any Jamaican, however “straight” or “bent” he or she may be. On sober reflection, Mr Smith may want to reconsider his position. He has given a lame apology to the police force for obvious reasons. He must now go on and do the decent thing and apologise to the homosexual community and the people of Jamaica, not only for the content of his speech but also for lowering the barof intelligent debate in the people’s Parliament. But who is holding his breath on this?