A nation’s constitution is critical. It can make a country great, mediocre or disastrous. Were it not for its constitution, the United States would not be a superpower. President Nixon would never have resigned to avoid impeachment; and his Attorney General and others would not have been sent to prison.
Our Constitution has left us a retarded society. It is mainly responsible for our destroyed potential and entrenched backwardness. Some say it worked for a while and needs mere amending. That is more national slackness.
Had our Constitution worked, our society would not be on the brink today, with everyone in a state of utter impotence to avoid the approaching precipice.
Our Constitution perpetuated the colonial condition. It never called the society to responsibility. It never engendered that sense of community fundamental to participation and self-determination. It kept us in debilitating dependency on our 21st century political governors who operate with no inescapable obligation to accountability.
And tragically, our Constitution facilitated the politicians in their despicable perpetuation of the racial divide.
It never embraced the reality of our plurality. It was a mimeographed, miniaturised version of the British constitution that cannot work without the supporting history and tradition. Therefore deep reform is critical.
We have four major problems: woefully inadequate representation of the people in Parliament; absolutely no participation or influence of the population in decision-making; lack of accountability by the political directorate; and the corrupting influence of race in the politics.
So tinkering with the text will not do. The philosophical foundations must be fortified and activated to drive every mechanism, every amendment or recommendation.
We must now go deeper than generalised ideals and focus on the peculiar challenges. We must recognise the worst product of our Constitution is our Parliament. It is largely responsible for our present state. It should have been the critical instrument of the people’s power in the nation’s governance. Instead, it remains an antiquated absurdity. It is no sacred house of the people where members either represent or are sent packing.
With all its silly stuffiness and ceremony, gowns and wigs, our Parliament is just a footstool of the executive. There is no true separation of powers to give it dynamism, independence and creativity.
The Prime Minister and the Cabinet dominate and suffocate both houses which constitute a mere rubber stamp for the Government’s
agenda. So for 50 years, the cabinet has been making the most critical far-reaching decisions unchallenged.
Take the annual budget. It is dictated, not negotiated. We have had 50 years of opposition hot air in Parliament but it never changed budgets in any fundamental way. Every appropriation bill ends in huge wastage of our resources, stolen or misspent, and our impotent Parliament can do nothing.
No one is sent to jail. Instead, our Parliament capsizes the law to set corrupt accused free. What a watchdog!
Parliament affords no representation either. Elected members have to beg for their constituency. Even being a cabinet minister is no guarantee. You must be on good terms with delivery ministers. Think,
then, how infinitely difficult it is for opposition MPs. And all the while constituents are breathing down your neck.
It is a sick joke made worse by the minuscule opportunity in Parliament to speak for your constituents. You can do so tangentially in useless debate on some bill or through a ridiculously called Motion on the Adjournment, when by permission of the almighty Speaker, you can deliver yourself briefly of some problem in your constituency. But not a leaf stirs in your district as a result. Nothing happens, except that you can tell your constituents you spoke of it in Parliament. You have your fig leaf; and they still have their problem until they decide to burn tyres to block roads, exposing the impotence of representation under our Constitution.
For decades there has been talk of reform with nothing done.
The people have not been stirred. The vast majority of them have difficulty relating the Constitution to daily living, not fully discerning its criticality in dealing with crime, corruption, poverty, diversification, and infrastructure.
But they must know that with a real Parliament, Section 34 would never have happened; and that from this Flying Squad fiasco there would either be a firing or fall of the Government. The people don’t yet fully understand how the Constitution should give them the power.
So for 50 years, our selfish, self seeking leaders have escaped dealing with this fundamental issue. They pay lip service in opposition but back-pedal in Government. They resist genuine reform because it means a reduction in their power and the entry of the people in decision-making. They know that a real Parliament would mean rulership by the people and
servanthood for the politicians for the first time in our history.
This is where constitution reform must take us. It must put the people in charge and at the centre of development. This does not now obtain.
At every election, politicians descend, some say like vultures, on the population. After receiving power from the people they turn away to live like fat cats, posing and posturing in Parliament, wasting and mismanaging resources, jeopardising the future and always leaving the people worse off than before.
Since Independence the wide scale dissatisfaction with every
administration has increased. Our governments have got worse and worse because our Constitution allows knaves and clowns to prowl and roam the corridors of power and for five years we can do nothing about the mess they make of our lives.
Reform must put a stop to this travesty and ongoing tragedy.
The power of the people must be felt at all times in the Parliament. Then it stops being the problem and becomes the solution.
Ralph Maraj is a former government minister