Tuesday, June 15, 2010

T&T Constitution the culprit

T&T Constitution the culprit | The Trinidad Guardian

(Published Triniad Guardian:http://www.guardian.co.tt/article-6.2.334076.a0d806c55e 

T&T Constitution the culprit

Sat May 08 2010
Var­i­ous oth­er analy­ses tell us that the cul­prit is the T&T Con­sti­tu­tion, and there is an in­dis­putable need for con­sti­tu­tion re­form, giv­en ev­i­dent flaws in T&T Con­sti­tu­tions past and present. Both the 1961 (In­de­pen­dence) Con­sti­tu­tion and the 1976 (Re­pub­lic) Con­sti­tu­tion were clear­ly al­ready ob­so­lete from their in­cep­tion, with their un­work­able British im­port of the first-past-the-post/win­ner-take-all mod­el and ev­i­dent fail­ure, as they dis­en­fran­chise large num­bers of vot­ers, as oc­curred in the 1981, 2001, 2002 and 2007 gen­er­al elec­tions. The al­ter­na­tive, pro­por­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which of­fers each par­ty num­bers of seats in Par­lia­ment, ac­cord­ing to the pro­por­tion of votes they com­mand, has re­ceived some at­ten­tion, but, like first-past-the-post, it up­holds a par­ty-based sys­tem that gives politi­cians di­vine sta­tus, and places them at the cen­tre of de­ci­sion-mak­ing, which we have seen, with de­mands for a bot­toms-up ap­proach, it­self can­not hold.
The Wood­ing (1971) and Hy­atali (1974) Com­mis­sions, set up to ex­plore con­sti­tu­tion­al re­form, pro­posed an­oth­er, a mixed sys­tem draw­ing from first-past-the-post and pro­por­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tive mod­els. This has been re­ject­ed by the PNM's Williams and Man­ning, though all–PNM and the com­mis­sions–premised their ar­gu­ments on our di­ver­si­ty which they de­fined large­ly as eth­nic di­ver­si­ty. Man­ning put for­ward, in 2006, a "work­ing doc­u­ment" on con­sti­tu­tion­al re­form, drawn up pri­mar­i­ly by a one-man com­mis­sion (for­mer Pres­i­dent El­lis Clarke), and af­ter-the-fact staged some pub­lic "con­sul­ta­tions"–an ap­proach in­ter­pret­ed as pay­ing lip ser­vice to pub­lic opin­ion.
Ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent?
His draft pro­vid­ed for an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent, as in the USA, which would give even more ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to an al­ready max­i­mum leader of the first-past-the-post sys­tem, with­out cor­rect­ing (but rather fur­ther emas­cu­lat­ing) those in­stru­ments and in­sti­tu­tions that pro­vide checks and bal­ances on such "Mas­sa" pow­er. These in­clude the ju­di­cia­ry and the leg­is­la­ture, and oth­ers as the Om­buds­man, the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tion, the Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice, the mag­is­tra­cy, Com­mis­sions for In­tegri­ty, Ju­di­cial and Le­gal Ser­vices, Po­lice Ser­vice, Pub­lic Ser­vice, Teach­ing Ser­vice. etc. It al­so pro­pos­es to re­strict the prin­ci­ple of free­dom of ex­pres­sion (the me­dia) by al­ter­ing the Bill of Rights.
An­oth­er con­sti­tu­tion, draft­ed by the self-as­signed 2006 Fair­ness Com­mit­tee of four, leaned on a fur­ther amal­ga­ma­tion–of the Man­ning mod­el (though pro­duced be­fore Man­ning's) sup­port­ing an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent, along with a mixed sys­tem of pro­por­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion and first-past-the-post, as rec­om­mend­ed by the Wood­ing and Hy­atali Com­mis­sions. One chal­lenge af­ter the oth­er to the con­sti­tu­tion has sur­faced, since the NAR, to show that the con­sti­tu­tion is not just dog-eared, but com­ing apart at the seams and ir­rel­e­vant in a rapid­ly-chang­ing world:
1. The PNM's chal­lenge of Win­ston "Gyp­sy" Pe­ters' dual cit­i­zen­ship;
2. The 2002 18-18 dead­locked elec­tions which were not catered for in the con­sti­tu­tion;
3. Oth­er chal­lenges, main­ly re­lat­ed to cock­fight­ing, by Pan­day and Robin­son–ap­point­ments through the Sen­ate of peo­ple who had been de­feat­ed in the polls;
4. The chick­en-and-egg cri­sis pre­cip­i­tat­ed by the Stand­ing Or­der for elect­ing a Speak­er be­fore con­ven­ing the House, when nei­ther par­ty want­ed to pro­pose a Speak­er.
The con­sti­tu­tion, say the ex­perts, has out­lived its use­ful­ness. To jus­ti­fy his quest for an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent/US-styled gov­er­nance sys­tem, PNM leader Patrick Man­ning has sought to jus­ti­fy his high-hand­ed ap­proach to de­ci­sion-mak­ing with ar­gu­ments that the ex­treme­ly di­verse na­ture of the so­ci­ety and their many com­pet­ing in­ter­ests made it dif­fi­cult to gov­ern, and need­ed "strong" lead­er­ship. But at the risk of sound­ing like a prophet­ess, the di­ver­si­ty of T&T is, in­deed, its pri­ma­ry char­ac­ter, and any­one who can­not man­age our di­ver­si­ty is doomed to fail­ure!
Any­one who wants to gov­ern ef­fec­tive­ly must unite the di­ver­si­ty, rather than seek ever more ex­clu­sive pow­er to over­rule it; (the con­se­quences of ig­nor­ing the pub­lic over an ex­tend­ed pe­ri­od have been graph­i­cal­ly il­lus­trat­ed by the events of re­cent weeks). The ex­perts tell us that the con­sti­tu­tion–and the West­min­ster-styled par­lia­men­tary sys­tem it es­tab­lish­es can­not ac­com­mo­date that di­ver­si­ty; oth­ers, like the PNM–un­de­ni­ably the most ex­pe­ri­enced par­ty in T&T–ar­gue that nei­ther could pro­por­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion.
Both, it seems, are part­ly in the right; but whol­ly wrong.
Lead­er­ship cri­sis–sin­gle par­ty or coali­tion
The search for the ide­al mod­el has been around the de­bate of whether the sin­gle par­ty or coali­tion gov­ern­ment is the bet­ter mod­el. Both have been tried and test­ed and found want­i­ng. As an­a­lyst Dr Bish­nu Ra­goonath ob­served, the three oc­ca­sions when our gov­ern­ments pre­ma­ture­ly col­lapsed have been as sin­gle-par­ty gov­ern­ments–Pan­day's in 2001 and Man­ning's in 1995, and 2010. Ma­jor­i­ty rule by a max­i­mum leader, with pow­ers equiv­a­lent to the di­vine right of kings, in a sin­gle par­ty is los­ing sway on a pop­u­la­tion be­com­ing more as­tute and un­will­ing to con­tin­ue as blind, un­ques­tion­ing, sheep-like fol­low­ers.
Gov­er­nance by any one ma­jor­i­ty eth­nic group has be­come un­savoury to grow­ing and more vo­cif­er­ous el­e­ments, de­mand­ing recog­ni­tion of our cul­tur­al and oth­er di­ver­si­ty, de­nied in Williams "No Moth­er In­dia, no Moth­er Africa" max­im which seemed not to grasp the com­plex­i­ty of the iden­ti­ty is­sue. Nor have coali­tions worked ei­ther; not two ex­am­ples, the al­liance gov­ern­ments of 1986 and 1991–both of which evolved out of forces op­pos­ing the PNM and in­clud­ing Pan­day's UNC, Robin­son's De­mo­c­ra­t­ic Ac­tion Con­gress, Karl Hud­son-Phillips' Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Na­tion­al Re­con­struc­tion, Lloyd Best's Tapia and var­i­ous oth­ers.
They failed be­cause...
They failed, not be­cause the struc­ture of the coali­tions was test­ed, nor be­cause of chal­lenges of man­ag­ing our com­plex di­ver­si­ty–they nev­er got a chance. They failed be­cause–as with the max­i­mum leader mode of sin­gle-par­ty pol­i­tics–man­ag­ing the di­verse egos of a man-rat-dri­ven po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, con­tin­u­ous­ly test­ed the con­sti­tu­tion and the gov­er­nance mod­el, pro­mot­ing the em­i­nence of con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyers and le­gal Mes­si­ahs. They failed be­cause of un­en­light­ened or mis­guid­ed lead­er­ship that failed to re­spect the needs and wish­es of its peo­ple.


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