Last Thursday, John Spence, writing in the Daily Express,
expressed the view that his conclusion about the draft constitution
by Sir Ellis Clarke would shift our governance very
much in favour of increased power of a single individual,
the Executive President. (Daily Express, 22nd February,
2007, P 11).
While Spence does not come out against this overtly, the Principles
of Fairness draft is very clear about the fact that it is
a true presidential constitution that is not going to be based
on a few amendments here and there by doing, as Spence suggests,
(i) increase the power of Parliament;
(ii) increase the power of local government;
(iii) increase the power of ministers; and,
(iv) circumscribe the power of the Prime Minister.
This approach is not going to effect any kind of meaningful
change in the society, but rather will perpetuate more of
the same paralysis that exists in the system that renders
it powerless to deal with the problems of crime, poverty,
education, health care, etc.
Fundamental change is required that alters the basis upon
which Parliament operates, and the Cabinet dominates it. Real
participatory presidential democracy requires a full package
of the following:
(i) complete separation of the Executive and the Legislature
(no more overlaps between MPs and ministers if you want real
(ii) direct election by the people of their president if you
want true democracy;
(iii) direct election of both Houses of Parliament if you
want to extend true democracy to the Parliament (no more power
for a nominated house to block the will of an elected house);
(iv) introduction of a division of the power of appointment
between the Executive and the Legislature if you want real
scrutiny and accountability in placing persons in high offices
of State (let the President nominate and let the Parliament
ratify or revoke);
(v) introduce proportional representation for the Senate to
guarantee that the will of the electorate will be fairly reflected
in that House, while keeping the House of Representatives
as it is to retain geographical representation; and,
(vi) introduce parliamentary committees that can undertake
real scrutiny of the Executive by removing ministers from
their committees themselves and giving them powers to hold
public inquiries and hearings on issues pertinent to their
areas of jurisdiction by calling various officials before
This is a core package of essential components that must be
held together if an executive presidency is to work at all
in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Spence model is far too conservative to have any serious
impact on our governance arrangements.
If we have not got the message by now, we ought to realise
that nothing is going to change, once we keep the parliamentary
model that we have, with a few amendments here and there.
Our attitudes to power have been conditioned by the fact that
we operate a parliamentary system which has a core set of
principles. A dressed-up version of that is not going to change
the way that power is exercised in our society.
We need to break down the centralised power structure that
we have, in which Parliament is the rubber stamp for the will
of the Executive for all simple majority legislation, while
the Opposition has the power to call all of the shots whenever
there is special majority legislation.
The Ellis Clarke draft shifts power more in the direction
of the Executive President, while the Principles of Fairness
draft shifts power more in the direction of the two Houses
of Parliament and away from the Executive President.
As a society, we have to decide which way we want to go. Or,
do we stay in neutral and do nothing?
As far as the Senate is concerned, there is a recognition
that something must be done to change it. Outside of T&T,
other leaders have commented on this.
For example, former Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson had
this to say in 1995, when he was Prime Minister:
It is worthy to note that the public fora held throughout
Jamaica on constitutional reform were all of the view that
the people wanted an elected Senate.
It is also my view that Senators should also derive
their authority from the people, and there ought to be some
method by which they are elected, rather than in fact being
appointed by two persons, the Prime Minister and the Leader
of the Opposition.
I propose that: At the time of holding an election,
the contesting political parties file a slate of persons to
constitute a panel from which Senators will be appointed in
the new Parliament.
The Senators will be determined on the result of the
elections to the House of Representatives, based on a proportional
representative system, subject to a minimum qualification
of 5 per cent of the popular vote.
(A constitution for the people: Contribution to the debate
on constitutional reform by Prime Minister the Right Honourable
PJ Patterson, PC, QC, MPJamaica Information Service,
December, 1995, PP 1315).
While PJ Patterson was contemplating a revised Senate for
Jamaica that placed the responsibility for choice in the hands
of the electorate and would seek to introduce transparency
into the nomination process, there is still a debate in T&Tabout
whether such reforms are desirable for us.
The change has not yet been introduced in Jamaica, and the
resistance here also signals that there will be a battle.
Some of our independent Senators have made a case about their
diminished importance in our political process as a means
of not being required to declare their assets and liabilities
to the Integrity Commission.
If they think that way about themselves, then they have made
a case for a fundamental reform of our Senate that would no
longer include them, but allow for the will of the electorate
Are we ready for that ?