I have watched from above as US senators snooze in their seats in Washington DC. I have enjoyed the garrulous shenanigans of Britains’ House of Commons.
But the opening of the Cook Islands Parliament last week was my first visit to this country’s debating chamber.
It was … humble. MPs are the servants of the people, and this nation’s politicians seem to have taken that literally, cramming themselves into something that looks like a low-roofed, fluorescent-lit, servants’ quarters. A large computer screen behind the Speaker counts down the minutes left in Question Time, as if ticking down to dinner service.
There are no padded seats. No green leather. No brass nameplates.
And yet, in the most important respect, it perfectly echoes the greatest Parliamentary democracies of the world. It is this: Government and Opposition MPs debate and question each other in the full view of the Cook Islands’ media and public.
During that sometimes robust debate, it yesterday emerged that government had botched the Budget. They had forgotten to include $300,000 for the upgrade of the debating chamber. Today, they will carefully remedy that oversight by redrawing the Budget.
One might, cynically, conclude that politicians the world over will always be at their most scrupulous in ensuring their own nest is well-feathered. After all, MPs are already preparing to vote themselves a 45 per cent pay rise.
But a more generous observer might judge them by their initial error. There was just one thing they initially forgot to include in last week’s $210 million Budget: themselves.