By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NASSAU Village Member of Parliament Dion Smith said he has a problem when young politicians are ridiculed by older members of their party for speaking their mind on certain issues, particularly when they are doing so in a respectful manner and for the betterment of the country.
Mr Smith said it seems as though there is always a problem between the new generation of PLP MPs and older politicians when the younger ones voice their differences with the government’s decisions.
Mr Smith, who is also deputy speaker of the House of Assembly, spoke with The Tribune a day before he criticised the government over its perceived neglect of his constituents and the proposed valued added tax (VAT) implementation.
“I do encourage free speaking,” Mr Smith said outside Parliament last week. “But I don’t want to see too much internal fighting and party members trying to tear down one another. I think that’s when a lot of emotions get involved. It’s like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ That’s how I feel sometimes when people say you speak out of turn. Who do you think you are to tell me I’m speaking out of turn? But if you’re being respectful and saying things that are right, I think you should be allowed to do it.
“I would encourage more free speaking among politicians,” Mr Smith added. “But what I would say is that you not do it with negative intentions. Sometimes persons do this tit-for-tat thing. I think that is totally wrong. I think if it’s something that is to move the majority of the Bahamian public forward then we should look at it and look at it seriously as well as all the options.”
“I think the older guards are entitled to their opinion,” he said. “But us as a new generation were just having a conversation about this. What we have to concern ourselves with is, we have to understand that other persons within our age bracket look to us to be the ones in charge when it’s time for them to move forward. In other words, persons in our age brackets want us to be the ones thinking of ways to improve their life, rather than someone that is so far removed from their age group. So I think that us, as a new generation, just have open minds. Some people don’t like change. But change is here. It’s coming.”
Last Thursday, during his contribution to the House of Assembly’s budget debate, Mr Smith told the Christie administration that his constituents in “frighteningly” poor Nassau Village complain of not being able to “feel” the government. He also said there are many residents who are experiencing the same hardships of Grand Bahamians, but feel overlooked and voiced concerns about VAT’s impact on the poor.
Recently, several PLP backbenchers have voiced dissent about government policies.
On June 4, during debate in the House of Assembly Marco City MP Greg Moss said the implementation of VAT would go against the founding principle of the PLP to protect the poor. He has previously said that the PLP will lose the next election if VAT is introduced. He supported income tax as an alternative tax model.
When asked to comment on Mr Moss’ criticism last week, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts lambasted the Marco City MP. Mr Roberts said the Marco City MP was speaking “out of turn” and is clearly “on a course that obviously only he is on.”
Mr Moss’ comments also elicited criticism from fellow PLP MP and Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald. Last week during his contribution to the 2014/2015 budget debate, Mr Fitzgerald said that Mr Moss is “misguided” in his criticism of the government’s VAT plans.
When asked to comment on the recent criticisms from younger politicians, Mr Smith told The Tribune he doesn’t think the new PLP MPs should be silenced but their views must be respected.
“We’re young, and I don’t think that we should be silenced,” the Nassau Village MP said. “Now we’re not necessarily silenced. But persons are trying to say that Mr Moss spoke out of turn, or (Fort Charlotte MP Andre) Rollins spoke out of turn, but at the end of the day they should be entitled to speak their mind. That’s what we’re here for in Parliament. We’re here to say how we feel and not be silenced.”
Dr Rollins came to Mr Moss’ defence last week. He also warned PLP “loyalists” that they are setting a “dangerous” precedent by criticising members of the party who express differing views from the party line.
Dr Rollins said such action could cause the public to believe, whether true or false, that the interest of the party exceeds the interest of the nation.
Last week MICAL MP V Alfred Gray told The Tribune that new generation politicians must learn not to be “fast on their tongue”. He warned that one false move can mean the end of political career, just as it is getting started.