Silence of cowards

By Ralph Maraj

 Thank you, Senate President, Timothy Hamel-Smith for pointing to “a dire need to have a better separation of powers between the executive and the legislature”, terming it  “the next challenge we must face and overcome”. Your position is in such contrast to our cowardly political leaders on this critical issue. None has answered my question, “how will you revolutionise governance to achieve a separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, critical to making the Parliament a fierce watchdog over the  Cabinet, Government and State enterprises?” Instead their bigoted bloggers go on the attack, hoping to silence me. 

And these are the leaders trying to bask in the light of the late Nelson Mandela. They must follow his example, for none comes anywhere near his greatness. They carry not even a whiff of Mandela or Gandhi in their personality or politics. 

We have not yet produced a leader worthy of tying the shoelaces of either Bapu, Madiba or Aung Sang Sui Chi. All have been Machiavellian manipulators of the people; destructive dividers; small, selfish hearts compared to Mandela’s vastness  that embraced diversity, forgave enemies, placed country before self, sacrificed for the liberation of people rather than personal comfort and power. 

Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Dr Rowley are attending the funeral. Their trip will only be of value if, after standing where he walked, they return with some modicum of his grandeur. But I doubt it. They will learn nothing and nobody will take them on, chartered plane or not.

The largeness of spirit which Mandela epitomised would have given us the start we needed at Independence. But compare him and Eric Williams, both fathers of their nations. Mandela relinquished power after one term when he could have remained in charge until death. Williams, on the other hand, fashioned a constitution that gave him almost absolute power over the Parliament, and clung to office until he died. Could our paltry Parliament have ever held an inquiry into the massive corruption during the reign of Williams? 

So obsessed with power was the “Doctah’’ that he rejected, as “a dagger aimed at the heart of the PNM’’, the harmless Wooding Commission recommendations of a hybrid system of  first past the post and proportional  representation for electing a large unicameral Parliament. This would not have removed prime ministerial rule in Trinidad and Tobago since it did not frontally face the question of separation of powers. But Williams would have none of it and not “a damn dog’’ dared bark. 

We can only remove the legacy of one man rule if we go further than the Wooding Commission. The hybrid that we really need is an executive president elected first past the post, and a unicameral legislature of full time parliamentarians all elected by proportional representation. This would not only ensure separation of powers, but create room for collaboration in Parliament across party lines in the interest of the people, reducing the role of race in the politics of Trinidad and Tobago. 

But all prime ministers followed in Williams’ footsteps. Once enthroned and enjoying elected kingship, none even contemplated separation of powers. So we had no reform of our dysfunctional governance that ate at the innards of our society for 50 years, ultimately exposing our utterly disastrous state. This place is shambolic! Nothing governmental works to its fullest;  not the Cabinet, Parliament, judiciary, police, Integrity Commission, Public Service, hospitals, schools, universities, or anything needed for our development. Instead, corruption, waste, mismanagement, ineptitude, nepotism, favouritism and underperformance abound. The spreading swampland I described at the start of this column two years ago has now completely taken over. All stand stained. The stench is everywhere and overwhelming. 

This is the sorry state wrought by our retarded Constitution that does not provide for the separation of powers to give our Parliament the independence and authority to protect the people. Our Constitution therefore facilitates corruption. 

It is alarming! But face the truth, folks. From the gas station racket, lock joint and the Caroni Racing Complex to the Piarco Airport bribery and money laundering, the desalination plant, Sunway and the Tarouba Sporting Complex, our Parliament has been totally impotent in protecting  the people. And the travesty continues to this day with Section 34, the fire truck fiasco, damning e-mails, questionable appointments, credible talk of unprecedented corruption and much more, while the Parliament can do absolutely nothing about it. 

The Constitution makes it a mere rubber stamp for the Government’s agenda. The annual budget is dictated, not negotiated, and ends in huge wastage of resources, stolen or misspent, with our powerless Parliament as facilitator. No one is jailed. What a watchdog! Makes you wonder why we have elections? Merely for Afro or Indo Trinidadians to live under the delusion they are in power?  

But elections do not put the people in charge because their representatives are little nothings in Parliament, ruled by the Prime Minister or cabal, within or outside the Cabinet, pushed around by an absurdly imperious Speaker beholden to his overlord the Prime Minister. 

The real beneficiaries of our primitive political process are predatory party financiers and corrupt politicians who further fatten themselves, stealing food from the mouths of the poor and robbing the children of a secure future. Depravity is not only in the beasts who have been murdering our children lately.

Because of our constitution, this nation has declined without ever having reached anywhere the top of its potential. Had we a Nelson Mandela along the way, he would have answered the call for a separation of powers to protect the people! But all we have had to this day is the silence of cowards posing as leaders. 

• Ralph Maraj is a playwright, former government minister

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