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The role of a Backbencher

Thomas C. Famous. Photo: Provided
By Thomas C. Famous

Today, let us take a moment to speak about the role of the backbencher. For clarity, a backbencher would be those who are elected to parliament but are not yet government ministers.

In the current setting within the Progressive Labour Party, there are 12 ministers and 12 backbenchers. Some may, rightfully, argue that within the One Bermuda Alliance there are 8 shadow ministers and 3 backbenchers.

Semantics aside, there are several responsibilities for those not within Cabinet.

One of their main roles would be to support the government mandate. This would mean, as a prime example that at present there is a government drive to get more Bermudians employed at every level.

MPs can support that initiative by assisting persons in their constituencies to take up opportunities at the Department of Workforce Development and or courses for career retooling at the Bermuda College.

Another key role of MPs is to help educate the electorate on a macro and micro scale regarding government platforms and initiatives.

Another important responsibility of MPs is partaking in committee work. This would mean parliamentary committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, more commonly known as the PAC. These committees oversee the spending of government ministries and capital projects.

Interestingly, this committee, which consists of 4 government MPs and 3 opposition MPs, is always headed up by the opposition party.

Other examples of parliamentary committees are; House and Grounds and Standing Orders Committee.

There are a host of other things that backbenchers are responsible for such as; area cleanups, party fundraising events, branch activities and maintaining relationships with social partners.

Social partners would include; unions, churches, civic groups and area school PTAs.

MPs must also do their part to learn more about local, regional and international politics. This can be done by becoming avid readers and or taking up parliamentary courses offered by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

In some instances, MPs are paired as understudies to Ministers. This exercise allows them to not only have a better understanding of the work of the respective ministries but also to assist the Minister in carrying out their wide range of duties.

With Ministers being so deeply engrossed in their responsibilities such as, but not limited to; education, finance and immigration, they are often not able to attend all of the concerns of their constituents.

As such, MPs must pitch in helping to canvass all seats and visiting seniors across the island.

Quite frankly, many ministers, no matter which government, are often rightfully criticised for not being in their constituencies as often as they were prior to going into Cabinet.

However, the reality is that if a Minister has a series of meetings locally or overseas they cannot knock on doors at the same time.

What every elected official must remember is this, the first job of any politician is to remain in contact with their voters. So, if the Minister cannot do it, then the backbench has to step in to assist.

Again, this is where MPs have to remember that they must operate as a team as they were voted in as a team.

After all, today they may be backbenchers, but tomorrow they themselves may be Ministers.

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