The parliamentary privilege enjoyed by Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin and others in this country's legislatures provides protection from civil or criminal liability for actions or statements made in the course of their duties there. Unfortunately, as Mrs Alleyne-Toppin so shamefully demonstrated on Wednesday, it can be flagrantly abused in pursuit of narrow, self serving political agendas and objectives.
The Tobago MP, who has close to five years of parliamentary experience under her belt, knew fully well that she could only make those vile utterances in that hallowed chamber where she was shielded from a defamation lawsuit. Secure in that knowledge, she made a contribution that was not just simply mauvais langue and gossip but a deliberate desecration of the memory of a long deceased woman.
Hoping to score political points against a fellow Tobagonian, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, Mrs Alleyne-Toppin descended to the depths of the gutter to place in the records of Hansard a sordid tale of rape and inflicting trauma and pain, not only on the Rowley family and their loved ones, but every single citizen of this country who ever been a victim of that deeply dehumanising crime.
This sordid situation brings into question the suitability of the MP, Minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development, to effectively execute the ministerial responsibilities of attending to the needs of citizens struggling with social, economic and personal challenges. Under her purview are social workers who regularly confront the ugliness of rape and its suffering victims.
Any person who has suffered that particular violation of their bodies and minds can attest to how long and difficult the process of healing can be. Those devastating effects, including severe psychological distress that can go on for months or years, can only be made worse by the utterances of a female government official, spoken in a place where a higher level of sensitivity and responsibility should have been displayed.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Mrs Alleyne-Toppin's PP colleagues, who sat, listened and said nothing, have by their very silence endorsed her distasteful comments. So did House Speaker Wade Mark, who is usually swift to deal with less offensive infractions, but failed to intervene as the MP assassinated the character of the late Mrs Rowley.The silence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who never hesitates to remind the nation of the fact that she is a caring wife, mother and grandmother, is particularly deafening.
In the face of the widespread public outrage at the minister's remarks, the PP administration cannot now resort to the usual strategies of spin doctoring and damage control.Following the precedent that they themselves established just a few days ago when they roundly condemned Dr Rowley for his "cat" comments, they must deplore this latest assault on the women of this country. Nothing less than outright condemnation and a swift, sincere apology will suffice.
In recent weeks, some outrageous, destructive statements have been made on the hustings. This latest incident is much worse, not only because of what was said, but because the utterances were made in Parliament, the very place where the highest standards of debate and behaviour should be observed.