Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Carnivalising the Constitution People Power Participation and the Pursuit of Happiness

Machel Montano may be the happiest man alive among the happiest people in #happynation which must include significant numbers of happy women, too, (if one is to go on his video in which he seems to be the only man alive!) Yet this national state of being is not reflected in the Happy Planet Index nor the World Happiness Report promoted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network initiative of United Nations where Trinidad and Tobago ranks somewhere at number 130 among 151 countries assessed – believe it or not!
But then, Bhutan - the country whose development philosophy is based on Gross National Happiness (as opposed to the standard material assessment: Gross National Product) and upholds the need for recognition of mental and emotional wellbeing of citizens as a primary goal of governance – does not even feature in these global assessments whose methods and assignments of value then become questionable.
For Trinidad and Tobago, the carnivalesque assertion of the right to happiness reflected in Machel’s ode to happiness, Happiest Man Alive, (linked here for easy reference, claiming no rights to the video) has always been, it seems, in a tug-of-war, with governance.
In fact, the heritage of disapproving mechanisms of state that seem designed to stampede on the quest for happiness, has established a habitual tug-of-war between them and the national state of being, so evident in the rebellion, rejection of authority and its instruments in not only the creative expressions of Carnival and other aspects of the culture and
creative sectors that form the counter culture to governance reflected in Montano’s song of that name, but which we see in those other areas where we expect order and discipline – in sports, in schools, even in churches (‘if the priest could play, who is me’!) for example.
In the five decades since Independence – not unlike the decades that preceded it - such ingrained challenges to the ideology of governance and the body politic as oppressive to natural and cultural rights have seen recurring manifestations in the cultural arena – the calypso stage, Carnival (Minshall’s annual declarations of ‘banning the Savannah’); in Lord Superior’s epic battle with the State’s approach to media, and in general perceptions of social recalcitrance. Indeed, it is a long list that underpins the pervasive perception that successive governments have no control over the society, and the belief too, that maybe they ought not, as any attempt at what may seem to be  an imposition of order is highly resisted.
The rewrite-the-Constitution process then ought to involve both intensive review that reflect an understanding of the past that have fed the cultures of antagonisms and contentions that have ensnared our society in querulous state of high tension, counter-productive jamming and mash-up mode, so as to allow for re-visioning and refashioning the emperor’s tools that would help shape our future.
That tapping into the past is as important as what I identified in the previous Demokrissy Blog, envisioning outside the island box, that identifies the absence of futuring key elements in the current consultations on constitutional reform, and absence of an overarching vision of the world or region or the country or the society we want or are trying to create that would guide development of a Constitution that is relevant as a key tool in our paths to progress into the next century.
The Honourable President of the Senate in his response to that blog on futuring acknowledged that the increasing importance of our diaspora therein identified may be addressed through rethinking the section n the Constitution on Citizenship (Chapter 2). But the issue is certainly broader and deeper than that. Our expanding metaphysical borders through diaspora, is only one component of the dissolution of borders and the challenge to territorial borders in an expanding global village that has expanded currency in such notions as global citizenship. The notion of citizenship is only one element that is clamouring for reconsideration in the ideologies of governance in the world before us.
The notion of the separation of powers will continue to be challenged in its (ir)relevance to a society with a growing population couched in a limited land space where lines of demarcation and diversity are themselves becoming blurred. It will continue to be questioned as more and more of our children cram into the same buses – at least those who are not cramming the roads and parking spaces with their cars - to get spaces into the same schools and graduate into the same after-work liming spots where it is inevitable to whiff the perfume of one or any who would be a functionary in one of those heavily demarcated borders of the estates of State where never the twain shall meet, or so they say. Wouldn’t a more appropriate principle accept and devise appropriate response-mechanisms that acknowledge our inextricable web of technological, as well as organic, connectivities: Machel's video of himself as a NASA astronaut on Planet Mas with wine-ing command of the sinuous creatures of his happy space-earth-to-ocean paradise, might be full of mixed metaphors that jar on those who prefer seamless imagery, but surely it reflects – pun intended - some contemporary or futuristic social truths.    
The wily, though perhaps not so wild colonial boys who were the architects of our independent society and its Constitution, would have seen pillars of governance as the Executive (cabinet), the Legislature (parliament) and the Judiciary (courts), but do the people see this as well? And that, given that the Constitution opens with the phrase “Whereas The People of Trinidad and Tobago” and continues with five clauses …have affirmed, … respect, …asserted,…recognise… and desire… which form the basis of a debate being termed national among those who can still hear themselves think above louder national kankalang.  
From its preamble, the Constitution goes on to lay down the formations, roles and functions of those pillars of governance: The President, Parliament, Cabinet. Its third dimension is a financing mechanism; and the fourth is a confused selection of administrative, watchdog and appeal instruments set up as checks and balances that include the Judiciary, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ombudsman, and Appeals Board and various commissions. All of these have come under tremendous pressure, moreso in the last decade with constitutional and political deadlocks, tumbling commissions and commissioners etc. All are being exposed as glariningly ineffective and blatantly wanting.
The inability of the tottering Integrity Commission, for instance, to find secure footing on solid ground, is only one of the symptoms of the crises in our institutions and the need for reconfiguration of this operational machinery that are similarly reflected in the challenges facing the other Commissions identified in the Constitution - Police, Teaching and Public Services, Salaries Review, Integrity, Election and Boundaries and the like. It begs the question: In a state in which the centre cannot hold, what may one expect of the periphery? Do these still hold as the core required administrative subsets of governance in our times, or should some other?
Then too, the growing clamour for people and more active civil participation in governance would have been nowhere in the core thinking of the architects of a Constitution 50 years ago, then with only a handful of higher-educated doctors and lawyers, not as now when almost any can be assured of a place in one or other degree mill.
In the current consultations, there is some recognition of the need for reconfiguring the institutional structure in the proposals put forward by Senator Timothy Hamel Smith in his recommendation for a Civil Society Board, expansion of the committee system and engaging broader representation through the Senate, although they are force-fitted into the niched mould of a quasi-Presidential system. The recommendations of the Constitution Reform Committee has most significance in its recognition that the high sounding notes of the preamble to the Constitution is at variance with its body and the instruments it sets up. But there is need for more than a few baby steps to reform if we are tho keep up with the pace of global change.
Proposed measures must recognise that this disconnect mirrors the seemingly anti-happiness, antagonistic relationship that has grown from colonialism through Independence between the instruments of governance and the people they ought to serve. It perpetuates perceptions of the ineffectiveness of our governance systems.  Its needs to be more directly confronted and addressed.
A top-heavy system with a sluggish implementation machinery is enough of a foundation for failed statedom, though the finger for such sluggishness has always instead pointed to the Trini pursuit of happiness – a condition that usually provokes the authoritative frown of disapproval. In fact, it is often considered counter-productive though to date no adequate instrument has been designed or attempted to measure and index the level of energy and value of the creativity emitted and how that factors into National Happiness as opposed to the GDP/GNP assessments that place oil and gas as the prime contributors to national development. Incidentally, the idea of the pursuit of happiness is borrowed from the American Declaration of Independence and is nowhere stated, nor condoned, in national ideology. Addressing that dissonance might bring us closer to the Constitution we want for a society we want.
The blurring of identities and borders, identified in the previous blog, are not just citizenship issues. They have broader governance implications and are core associates with the upsurge in challenges to traditional archetypal notions of separations: of power, of roles, and of functions, as well as of the place of the citizenry and their greater participation in governance.
It is no wonder that the Bill of Rights and the sexual rights lobby has the reformers', and the media’s, knickers in a twist, so it has surfaced as a core issue of the Constitutional review process. On that note, it may be well worth the media’s time to assert its own Fourth Estate rights to be happy and avoid future worry. As the possible First Estate of the Future, the media has yet to do justice to engaging the population in the broad range of rich contributions that have entered the arena of Constitutional Reform discussions and explore proactively (rather than its accustomed reactivity) and proffer its own recommendations on elements of the Constitution that so directly impact its operations. Hopefully, that could be done in measured decibels that would distinguish such discussions and debates from the (accustomed) noise-making.
This, especially, as such traditionally held sanctities as the rights to privacy, notions of freedoms, and of responsibilities are themselves acquiring such textures of flexibility. blurred tones and fluidity as the sensual soundless underwater world of women in which Machel Montano asserts his rights, and ours, to happiness.

Next Blog: Macho? Asexual? Metrosexual?  Constitutional sex appeal to stimulate the body politic. Stay Tuned
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This Demokrissy series, The Emperor’s New Tools, continues and builds on the analysis of evolution in our governance, begun in the introduction to my book, Through the Political Glass Ceiling (2010): The Clash of Political Cultures – Cultural Diversity and Minority Politics in Trinidad and Tobago.

 Others in this series:
Oct 20, 2013 Choosing the Emperor's New Troops. The dilemma of choice. Voting is supposed to be an exercise in thoughtful, studied choice. Local government is the foundation for good governance so even if one wants to reform the ...
Apr 07, 2013 Old Casked Rum: The Emperor's New Tools#1 - Towards Constitutional Reform in T&T. So we've had the rounds of consultations on Constitutional Reform? Are we any wiser? Do we have a sense of direction that will drive ...
Apr 30, 2013 Valuing Carnival The Emperor's New Tools#2....
See Also:
Jul 30, 2013 Wherever these breezes have passed, they have left in their wake wide ranging social and political changes: one the one hand toppling long time leaders with rising decibels from previously suppressed peoples demanding a ...
Oct 25, 2013 Some 50 percent did not vote. The local government elections results lends further proof of the discussion began in Clash of Political Cultures: Cultural Diversity and Minority Politics in Trinidad and Tobago in Through The ...
Oct 14, 2013 They are announcing some political meeting or the other; and begging for my vote, and meh road still aint fix though I hear all parts getting box drains and thing, so I vex. So peeps, you know I am a sceptic so help me decide.
Jun 15, 2010 T&T Constitution the culprit | The Trinidad Guardian · T&T Constitution the culprit | The Trinidad Guardian. Posted by Kris Rampersad at 8:20 AM · Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook ...
Apr 30, 2010 'How we vote is not how we party.' At 'all inclusive' fetes and other forums, we nod in inebriated wisdom to calypsonian David Rudder's elucidation of the paradoxical political vs. social realities of Trinidad and Tobago.
Oct 29, 2013 An indication that unless we devise innovative ways to address representation of our diversity, we will find ourselves in various forms of deadlock at the polls that throw us into a spiral of political tug of war albeit with not just ...
Oct 16, 2013 Sheilah was clearly and sharply articulating the deficiencies in governmesaw her: a tinymite elderly woman, gracefully wrinkled, deeply over with concerns about political and institutional stagnation but brimming over with ...
Oct 21, 2013 Ain't Trini politics d BEST! Nobody fighting because they lose. All parties claiming victory, all voting citizens won! That's what make we Carnival d best street party in the world. Everyone are winners because we all like ...
Jan 09, 2012 New Media, New Civil Society, and Politics in a New Age | The Communication Initiative Network. New Media, New Civil Society, and Politics in a New Age | The Communication Initiative Network. Posted by Kris Rampersad ...