Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the quality of youth participation in programmes across the world. However, despite the lack of physical sessions, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) presents a model that governments can adopt to further important conversations with youth. Recently, the CPA held its first staging of the Virtual Commonwealth Youth Parliament.
Hosted between December 14 and 18, this conference was a unique experience, as over 50 exceptional young people from more than 20 countries and jurisdictions throughout the Commonwealth were able to interact with each other. Participants came from territories as far as the serene Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, to the diverse Indian subcontinent, the plains of Tanzania, the Mediterranean shores of Gibraltar and the frigid oceans of the Falklands.
The diverse cohort of participants allowed for varied in-depth perspectives to be given during this sitting. Hearing these views was essential, as this assembly debated the model bill to establish the COVID-19 Youth Relief Fund and the Bureau for Youth Unemployment in the fictional jurisdiction of Commonwealthland.
This experience was rewarding, as we were able to comprehensively scrutinise the bill and examine how it would impact different stakeholders. We also got the opportunity to examine this bill, using specific committees that interviewed professionals, which is similar to select committees of Parliament.
Adding to the noteworthiness of this occasion were discussions about contentious issues such as data protection, privacy, the role of government and the future of the global economy. This highlights the important role youth plays in the COVID-19 recovery process, and it also emphasises the universality of our creativity and imagination.
DIFFERENT PARLIAMENTARY CULTURES
My favourite session from the week was the sitting where we debated the bill while focusing on providing opportunities for youth during the pandemic. This session was particularly enjoyable, as we heard riveting submissions from members who represented different parliamentary cultures.
For example, my colleague from India, Zinnia Aurora, shared her experience on how lively her local assembly can be during debates on critical issues. Jamaica is no stranger to these vivacious discussions in our own Parliament. Thus, practising parliamentary procedures learned was very novel.
Using the special mention provision in the assembly’s standing orders was also a noteworthy moment for me, as this provision is adopted from the Indian parliament. Jamaica can learn from these examples.
Additionally, serving as the Opposition Spokesperson for Health for the fictional Democratic Party was also a privilege. The highlight of this experience was the successful passage of amendments to the legislation that were introduced by my party. These amendments ensured that minorities like the disabled community were represented, part-time workers were protected, small businesses were supported, and privacy safeguarded within Commonwealthland.
The knowledge and skills gained from this assembly can be applied in multiple ways. For one, this experience can be used to teach youth about the role and functions of the legislature. Also, lessons such as how to make compromises and incorporating diverse voices in the policy formulation process can be applied.
ENCOURAGING THE MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT
Being able to dissect legislation from multiple angles is another key takeaway that should also be shared. Furthermore, additional knowledge of the committee system can be used to enhance our National Youth Parliament of Jamaica while encouraging the meaningful engagement of youth in the legislative process.
Gratitude must be expressed to several stakeholders, including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for organising the event, and Jamaica’s Houses of Parliament for preparing me to represent Jamaica on this occasion. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, particularly the Youth and Adolescent Policy Division and the Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica, also deserve recognition for continuing their mandate to support Jamaica’s young people.
Going forward, we know that Jamaica’s youth are represented by the best young people. A key lesson learned is that despite our differences in our own distinctive systems, there are some characteristics that unite youth globally. These include our commitment to duty, our sense of purpose and our passion for change. Sharing these valuable lessons with youths will ultimately make the Commonwealth and Jamaica a much better place for all.
– David Salmon served as the Opposition Spokesperson for Health in the 9th staging of the Commonwealth National Assembly. To send feedback, he may be contacted at [email protected] or tweet him @DavidSalmonJA and [email protected]