At 3.15 a.m. on Saturday, September 8, at the end of nearly 17 hours of debate, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives read out the results of the vote on the Municipal Corporations Bill.
The Senate debate on the Bill, three days later, concluded at almost the same time. One wonders whether the public will be aware of brilliant points made about the deficiencies of the bill and the misleading sample arithmetic in the Schedule.
Parliament played exactly to the script that I described last week but also displayed a deeper irresponsibility. It is necessary to dwell on it because it is a new low in the lack of planning a parliamentary agenda.
A Bill to enable the use of the votes cast in a local government election to elect aldermen was introduced when the Parliament had not been asked to carry out its statutory duty to consider what revisions were required to the electoral districts in accordance with the electoral laws.
Two hours or so into the debate, therefore, the Government moved to suspend the proceedings in the House of Representatives temporarily. The purpose of the suspension was to introduce a motion to approve the draft Elections and Boundaries Commission Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly Order 2013.
These motions to approve, modify or reject EBC recommendations arise from time to time because the EBC keeps the size and related features of constituencies and electoral districts under continuous review to ensure that they comply with the formulas which the electoral laws prescribe. Having done its review, the EBC reports to the Minister to whom responsibility is assigned for laying EBC reports in Parliament. It appears that this assignment was given to the Minister of Local Government in the case of Municipal Corporations.
The occasion that arose as an emergency on September 8 was entirely self induced because the EBC had reported more than two years ago in July 2011 but the Minister omitted to bring the report to Parliament, despite his express obligation to do so “as soon as” the Commission submits its report.
This was no academic matter because the report that was ignored recommended a significant number of boundary changes and the addition of two new electoral districts. Put simply an election was called without the areas to be contested properly and finally delineated according to law. In those deficient circumstances, the Parliament was being asked to alter the rules of the electoral contest. They were churning ice cream without having put the salt into the ice.
Apologists for the current Government are also trying to paint the failure as a collective failure of the Parliament. It is not. The primary failure is Ministerial. If however a parliamentary agenda was planned an omission like this might be averted. That is a responsibility that every Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business in recent times have evaded.
One of the oddities of the Bill as drafted, is the standardisation of the number of aldermen at four, with the result that, to take one example, 25,000 electors will be represented by the same number of aldermen, as 62,000 will be. That seems out of proportion to me.
While on the subject of accountability Nidco is farse and out of place to say that it will resist the Highway Re-Route Movement. That is not their call. Nidco has no constitutional status. The plethora of special purpose companies, like Nidco, lives in the dark shadows of lack of accountability and activities, conveniently not always traceable to their ministerial masters. See the Uff report regarding these privately incorporated companies handling public business.
On a brighter note, there has been a heartening response to my recent column regarding funding for youth development through the medium of music and other arts led by the panyards. Sadly, no cheques received as yet.
We regularly receive news of the worldwide reach of pan and the quality circles in which it is welcomed. I share news received from a fellow columnist in response to my column.
The renowned video artist, Jeremy Deller, organised a major part of the British exhibition at the 55th Venice Biennial international art exhibition. It is set to a soundtrack comprising steel orchestra music performed by Melodians Steel Orchestra UK from South London recorded at Abbey Road Studios.
Unfortunately for our arts the government plans to use more special purpose companies without any published policy on the “developmental funding” these companies will be given to dispense.
These companies will be added to those already in the dark shadows. They will be open to the traditional abuse of putting more relatives and political supporters into cushy positions and, in the absence of published policy, to dispensing public funds on the basis of favoritism. More wasteful churning.
No matter how successful here and there, the ice cream of truly high quality international exposure for our arts will not come in.