CONSTITUTIONAL AMEN: THE FIRST RITES OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM…

So whilst the Procurement Bill- which will ensure public oversight over how politicians spend public money- languishes in Limbo in Parliament, a pick-up side Constitutional Amendment Bill speeds through and is passed faster than you can say ‘34’…

It is terrifying that a movement as profound and globally significant as Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitutional Reform movement could be sabotaged so casually, quickly, and consciously as what we have just witnessed in the last dark days of August… For let’s get it straight- the world is in the throes of several upheavals because of the failure of Western forms of governance sculpted in the last 300 years. I am not overstating the case to say that some of the ideas by T&T’s most visionary constitutional reform champions are ideas the entire world needs now like oxygen.

In the last 30 years T&T’s Reform movement has borrowed ideas from the world for adoption- like Campaign Finance Reform and Local Government Reform, but a handful of suggested Reforms are brilliant original ideas which are globally applicable. In the last week however we have witnessed every single one of those innovations completely and utterly ignored in favour of a series of ‘now-come’ measures meant to increase the power of political elites and reinforce the psychosis of a paralysed two-party system… Late champions of real Constitutional Reform- Dennis Pantin, Sheila Solomon, and Lloyd Best- not to mention senior Constitutional architects and monitors like Hugh Wooding and Karl Hudson Phillips must be spinning in their graves!

‘CITIZENS’- NOT ‘POLITCIANS’

To understand how monumental the tragedy we are witnessing unfold is, we have to understand the problems in our present system of government that Constitutional Reform was supposed to remedy. In simple terms the problems are: Transparency (how can I always see what yuh doing); Accountability (how to make sure yuh cud get ketch); Checks and Balances (how to make it so even bad people have to do good, fuss de system build good and it hav eyes on yuh); and Citizen Participation (how to make sure dat wat yuh doing is what we tell yuh to do and we cud always stop yuh when yuh gone against)…

Every single one of these things is fundamentally about ‘Citizen Empowerment’. The Bill in Parliament dealt completely with ‘Politician Empowerment’. It removed the focus of the Constitutional Reform movement away from its rightful place on ‘the Citizen’ and returned to its habitual obsession ‘the Politician’. We are back to the fundamental problem with our Constitution and system of governance- and the entire culture of the country so derived. It is a national culture that situates ‘the Politician’ at the centre of the Universe and not ‘the Citizen’.

Let’s reflect a bit on how fundamentally wrong, destructive, and widespread this culture of ‘politician-centricsm’ is- and how it handicaps us as a people. Take a look at our newspapers and media over weeks and months- the majority of lead news items are about our politicians and/or their role or response to some phenomena. I have witnessed events with blowmind revelations by Nobel Prize winners, breath-taking performances by global artistic talents, profound moments of transcendence- and the coverage of the event and the picture that appears the next day in our media is of whoever politician was present shaking some person’s hand or giving the opening address. As if politicians are the lens by which we must fracture reality!!! We have replaced the magic of the world in all its variety with images of dunderhead politicians… This is a neurosis…

Everyday- here, and in our diaspora- there are genius Trinbagonians doing profound and newsworthy things- yet still our media and our culture continue to put politicians and murderers as our headline news and at the centre of our discourse… This is not so in other parts of the world- other than in dictatorships. It is a similarity worth noting… This mockery of a Constitutional Bill therefore plays directly from that hymnbook. The Bill- despite the bait of ‘Right of Recall’- is completely concerned with the sharing up of power and real estate amongst politicians. It also completely reinforces the mistaken notion that the only power Citizens are supposed to be allowed is electoral power. This is precisely the abomination that the last 30 years of Constitutional Reform has been about exorcising! This is the singular massive flaw in our system of governance. The innovations people have been fighting for have to do with creating systems so that citizens have vehicles to participate in governance 24/7 365 days of the year. Vehicles where we can exercise authorship, oversight, and direction over our money, resources, projects, and their deployment…

Transparency. Accountability. Checks and Balances. Citizen participation…

Citizen Participation- the ability to really belong to this Republic. That is the Holy Grail… It is also the one thing I have found that even critics of this Bill have completely ignored in the hullabaloo. The fact of the matter is this: we who have fought for Constitutional Reform do so because we have found that that there is absolutely no legal way for Citizen’s to affect decision-making in government once the election is done. None.

We can burn tyres, march, write articles, and make various kinds of noise- but we are locked out of the process of decision-making, resource allocation, project implementation, and its aftermath… We can only watch on as men tief us blind, bring legislation meant to tief us blind, or appoint friends to tief us blind… All we can do legally is hope that noise makes them stop…

That cannot be a democracy, a nation, or even sane.

That is the terror of impotence we secretly all feel as citizens of T&T. The fact remains however that brilliant innovative thinking has gone into diagnosing the reasons behind this and creating internationally groundbreaking solutions for it. I am not going to talk about the various brilliant ideas for local government reform, which is an essential piece to this puzzle. I instead will concentrate on what I believe is one of the most important innovations to the idea of government that the world has seen in 500 years. It is an idea which answers the international problem of citizen participation and evolves the Republican form of Democracy light years- but it does it by returning the idea of government to the idea of the Tribal Village Congress. I am referring to Lloyd Best’s idea of the ‘Big Macco Senate’! In the ‘Big Macco Senate’ Best answers the question of how to integrate citizens into the fabric of the State so that they are always part of the process…

The next time we are debating Constitutional Reform this is what we should be debating…

The major innovation of the ‘Big Macco Senate’ is that the entire Senate becomes independently nominated members of civil society, and their role in government is expanded as a check and balance to legislation, nominations of members of the other House, staffing of Commissions and regulators, and in interrogating the day to day governance of the nation.

To understand the extent of this innovation and the way it interrupts our crisis we need to first diagnose our form of governmental disease.

THE CROWN COLONY

We must get this clear: WE DO NOT HAVE A WESTMINSTER SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT. WE HAVE A CROWN COLONY SYSTEM WHICH EMERGED OUT OF A COLONIAL PLANTATION SLAVERY SYSTEM OF ADMINISTRATION. The Crown Colony was the most advanced form of Colonial control with the complete centralizing of executive power within the Colonial Governor- even above his Council. The Council in fact existed only as a creature of the Governor’s powers. From 1810 to 1956 this was how we were governed. Trinidad was in fact the most advanced form of the Crown Colony worldwide at one time! Every institution in this country has the legacy and infection of this tyranny in it. We have never systematically gone about understanding and purging ourselves of what that system means and what the culture it has generated has done to us.

The Westminster system was imposed on that original structure but did not displace the culture at its centre. Because of the Crown Colony base, all our leaders have succumbed to what some call the ‘Eric Williams’ or ‘Doctor’ Complex- the ‘Colonial Governor’ complex. ‘Maximum Rulership’. This is a real thing- like a possessing spirit. It is a culture whereby people are disempowered throughout the system so that a politically astute charismatic individual holds and wields all the power. This has resulted in a host of defacto ‘dictator’ leaders- from the savagery of the post 1810 governors to the governor impulses of Williams, Robinson, Manning and Panday. This much is clear. This tendency inhabits all institutions we create, from limes to businesses. The Crown colony system was the most extreme form of governor rule whilst also tying the island forever to a colonial power.

Now I should here add that I also believe that in the years and mobilizations spent in ousting the excesses of Manning this country actually overthrew the culture of Maximum Rulership- but has not created anything to take its place. It is important to understand that I am not saying that the People’s Partnership government did this- they were in fact a pick-up side that only appeared at the very end to get us across an electoral hurdle. It was Citizens who overthrew Maximum Rulership. I believe that we shall never see the likes of it again. Again this is not to say that there are not ego-maniacs who will try- but I believe a fundamental line has been crossed. I believe that citizens are now so mobilized that we will not allow such a type of ruler again. The challenge then is what do we put in its place, because all we have left is the political culture of ‘appetite’- ‘eat ah food’, nepotism, and Vicki-vye.

The opposite of the Maximum Ruler is Citizen Participation and this is where we must engage. The ‘Big Macco Senate’ plots the way.

THE BIG MACCO SENATE

In the ‘Big Macco Senate’ Lloyd Best suggests that we keep the two tiered Parliament. One tier would be a House of Representation- the Macco Senate- which would assemble all the valid interests of the country. It would not be a nominated house like the Senate now or elected like the House of Representatives now where people are elected only if the leader of the party allows them to run. It would be a House of genuinely autonomous and independent representatives who would be elected by the groups, communities and interests for which they speak who would include: the unions; the business associations; the media; the university; the religious groups; the civil service; the teaching and protective services; the municipalities and regional corporations; the steelband, masmen, and other sporting, cultural and community organisations. These representatives would not in any way be controlled by the Prime Minister or outside interests. They would receive no government salary- the people whose interests they represent must pay them for them to remain independent. This means that citizens with certain interest should make themselves members of civil groups who represent their interest. In that way as a floor member you can affect the decisions made in the Senate by your rep. Business interests will defend business interests, artist interest will defend artist interests- and the debates will be noisy and real as we contend for space in the open. As it should be!

This would transform what is now the Senate into a genuinely independent house. The matters brought up in this House would be real issues affecting real people. This house would be a large body probably thrice the size of the other House. Members would be elected not every five years but possibly every three.

The other House- call it for now the House of the Executive- would be what the present House of
Representatives is in effect- a place where the political leaders place most of the people they require to assist them in governing. The House of the Executive would probably have to be twice as big as it is now- about 72 people. The chief purpose of this house is to bring together the political leaders who see themselves as possible Prime Minister or Head of Government and State and their respective teams. The big difference with the new House of the Executive would be that at elections people will no longer be voting for MPs as this is a waste of time. At elections people would vote for Prime Minister only- which is really what we have now (nobody cares who really runs in the seats). The Prime Ministerial candidate would present to the electorate a list of their candidates for the House of the Executive. In voting for the PM you would be voting for his/her slate of individuals that they MUST find and declare beforehand. After the election the Prime Minister would be whoever is the person best able to form a majority in the House. Lloyd suggests that the post of the ceremonial President be removed- I don’t agree with this.

The House of Executive is then constituted according to the percentages of votes that each party leader gets. The members of the House are selected by the PM and Opposition from their lists. The Ministers for various Ministries who will form the Cabinet and the government are chosen from his body by the PM. These are people who the PM believes can help him/her get the job done.

And here is where the job of the Big Macco Senate (the House of the Citizens) begins: before anybody can be confirmed in Government they must be screened with proper procedures by the Senate! The Big Macco Senate approves or disapproves them for the job. This is just one of many ways that the Citizens now will be interrogating and participating with government intimately. In the case of a winning leader getting a minority of the vote- say 35% in a four party race- he or she must form a coalition to get enough people to run the government.

In this system there are enough checks and balances especially on the PM and there is now real representation. It also leaves local representation to Local Government- Mayors, Councilors, Aldermen- which means that Local Government must be empowered. It means that it does away with the farce of cabinet Ministers pretending to be area representatives. It divides powers of Central Government and Local Government very clearly…

I for one endorse the ‘Big Macco Senate’, it is not only logical, but it is what we have been instinctively groping for internationally for centuries. It trumps the American Congress and Senate which is now run by corporate and monied elites and lobbyist who have bought their politicians. The Big Macco Senate replaces American lobbyist power with real POWER TO THE PEOPLE! In this new form there is the familiar and there is also innovation- but only a small amount so that nobody would get lost. The main change is that the House of Representation would be much more independent and would be constituted from real communal interest groups. Also now in the House of the Executive led by the Prime Minister there could be real debate, free from the tasks (and myth) of local representation. It also emancipates and empowers Local Government to go about its task free of Central government interference… All in all we would have a real government.

We must intercept this farcical Constitutional Amendment Bill which has run rough-shod over citizen’s protest, spat in the face of our consultations, and insulted decades of debates and innovative ideas. The President must intervene with some of the powers that he has that we don’t know he has. The time has come for the change that has been forcing itself upon us to be made manifest. Real and not fraudulent Constitutional Reform. The frustrations of the Citizenry will not lie down peacefully for long. There is nowhere else to go. The legacy of the Crown Colony, the plantation slave economy, and the 2 party system born out of Westminster and racial politics has run its course. We stand in the wasteland and promise after toppling Maximum Rulership- but in the ruins where only ‘appetite’ seems to be the only political culture left. We must take this moment to seize the opportunity to invent the way we live in the world. A New World is possible, a better way. We cannot let the wolves alone be brave. This is the new time for all with eyes to see. Who has the courage to usher in the New Age?

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Posted on August 12, 2014, in President's Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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