The President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA), Gregory Aboud, is reported to have stated in an address to the Port of Spain Rotary club (Newsday, August 22) that there is need for a change in this country's governance model. He is reported to have stated that we had created a composite system of governance that delivered only poor results and that it was an "old world model".
Gregory Aboud has referred to many of our recent failings such as the Clico fiasco, the unplanned developments that result in flooding, inefficiency in various government departments, lack of accountability and so on. He is quite right to highlight these deficiencies which he blames not on the personnel but on the system. My view is that whatever system we devise can be undermined by the people who run it. I find myself agreeing with comments reported to have been made by the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, to the effect that no legislative system is perfect and there's no need for Trinidad and Tobago to switch from the Westminster system because it has served us well thus far.
The Attorney General also stated that constitutional reform is exercising the minds of three "constitutional commissioners" — are they working in secret? A major criticism of the Patrick Manning "Round Table" on constitutional reform (of which I was a member) was that the public was presented with a final document without involvement of the wider population in its development. Are the three "commissioners" going to prepare a complete document before making their deliberations public? Is there a website where the information on the deliberations of the commissioners can be studied?
Gregory Aboud also discussed the powers of the prime minister and the effect that these powers have on our governance. I have written a series of articles on the powers of the prime minister and I indicated constitutional amendments that can be made to curb those powers. In those articles I wrote: "To summarise the discussion on the "Power of the Prime Minister" it is my view that: (1) we do not need a new Constitution but amendments to the present one to effect improvements in governance and to achieve a better balance of power between the various arms of Government, (2) the power of the prime minster needs to be circumscribed, particularly his power to control appointments to ministerial posts and to some contract public service appointments, (3) legislation is needed to limit the appointment of senior political party officials to public offices".
With respect to the power of the prime minister to appoint ministers I make two suggestions to reduce the adverse effects of this power. The first is that there be fixed Ministries, and fewer in number than we have at present (as in the United States where there are 15 ministries — headed by "secretaries"). The appointment of secretaries in the United States is on nomination by the president and then with the approval of the Senate. Their removal is by a difficult process. We could adopt a similar process by amendment to our Constitution.
The second is that the salaries of members of the House of Representatives (who should be full time) and that of ministers be the same with the ministers receiving a responsibility allowance. In that situation there would not be such a drastic change in financial circumstance when a member is appointed as a minister or if the appointment is revoked.
I also wrote: "The power of the prime minister also derives from his position as leader of his political party and by the relationship of the party to Government. If members of that political party (particularly members of the General Council of the party) also hold appointments in the Public Service and in the Government, which come under the control of the prime minister then he (she) is also able to maintain control of the party. Thus contract appointments in the public service, ambassadorial type appointments, and/or ministerial appointments are all under the direct control of the prime minister".
"This control of the political party gives the prime minister control, or as a minimum great influence over who are selected as candidates in the country's general elections and thus who become members of Parliament on the Government side. My proposal to address this issue would be that the Constitution prohibits senior members of a political party from holding posts in Government or senior posts in the Public Service. It might be suggested that this is interfering in the internal affairs of the parties which are private organisations. However since political parties are mentioned in the Constitution they cannot be considered to be entirely private organisations".
With respect to other comments of Gregory Aboud on the deficiencies in our governance the roles and responsibilities of elected members of Parliament are of particular importance. I discussed this issue to some extent in a recent article under discussion of the Constituency Development Fund (Express, August 8). It is my view that we are misunderstanding the role of elected members of Parliament in the Westminster system. In this regard a visit to the United Kingdom Parliament website which gives the situation in that country is of interest. I shall discuss this again in subsequent articles.
This article was written on the basis of newspaper reports of the address given by Gregory Aboud. I have since obtained of copy of the full text of the address (through the kind courtesy of Mr Aboud) and so in my next article I shall discuss this important contribution to the debate on our governance in more detail.
I wish all citizens of this country great hope for the future at this time of celebration of 50 years of Independence.
• John Spence is professor
emeritus, UWI. He also served
as an independent senator