Friday, January 19, 2018

The PNM’s ten points

Reginald Dumas logo32

Mark Fraser

 Part II

Point four of the PNM’s offering calls for “a specified number and names of ministries...” This, the party says, “would entail a determination of what ministries are required to effectively service the needs of the people of (T&T) and those ministries should be named in the Constitution.”

So the question I asked towards the end of my previous article is answered: no comprehensive study of government activity has yet been done. How in any case can one so definitively determine what ministries would be “required to service the needs of the (population)” as to be able to incorporate the names in a Constitution? Is the future so clear? I agree that some ministries are obvious–Finance, for example, or Foreign Affairs. But what of Tobago? If the island does achieve internal self-government, what would be the nature of that new political phenomenon? What consequences would it have? Would the Ministry of Tobago Development disappear, like the Ministry of Tobago Affairs before it?

Point four also contains language which I find a bit of a puzzlement. It reads: “The PNM is of the view that the majority of ministers should be chosen from the members of the House of Representatives, those elected should form the Cabinet. Consequently the Constitution should specify an upper limit to the number of senators that may be appointed as ministers.”

If the majority of ministers are to come from the ranks of MPs (elected persons), is it that the minority will be senators? And if only “those elected” (MPs) are to “form the Cabinet”, is it that senators (a limited number) can be ministers but not Cabinet ministers? Would this be the best use of our human resources? But why should a Constitution be burdened with all this? A Constitution is about principles, not minutiae.

Point five states the PNM’s commitment to campaign finance reform, and says that the political leader and the general secretary have attended seminars on the subject. That’s nice, but what ideas does the party have for public examination?

And what of party finance reform, more generally? Political investors don’t surface only at election time; they are omnipresent, seeking their interest at all times. How therefore are reforms to be efficiently and effectively monitored?

Point six asks for “a limit to the plethora of persons who may be appointed to act during the absence of the Prime Minister. Consequently, the post of Deputy Prime Minister should be established.” This might give the impression that T&T has never had a Deputy PM. In fact, we have had one, only one: the late Dr Patrick Solomon, who for some years was Eric Williams’ no. 2. It’s a title (like “Head of the Public Service”), not a post. In the UK, the appointment (or not) of a Deputy PM is in the discretion of the PM. So it was also in T&T in 1962.

In my opinion it should remain so. I share the PNM’s irritation with the multiplicity of acting prime ministerial appointments we’ve experienced these last four years and some, but I’m not sure we should so fetter a PM as to “establish”–by law, I imagine–a post of Deputy. In any case, what is to stop a PM changing his or her Deputy every few months, so that we end up with the same “plethora” of actors?

Point seven recommends that the Electoral College, which chooses the President, “be expanded to include representatives of Civil Society, perhaps from Local Government bodies, the THA, NGOs, the IRO, universities, inter alia.” Some of the language here is superfluous, since NGOs, the IRO, etc are part of civil society, but I understand the meaning behind it.

I too would like to see a broader electoral base for the presidency. I favour a nationwide election, but I bear in mind the possibility–perhaps the probability–that, in our fractious society, such an election might have an adverse impact on the impartiality the president is supposed to exercise. The PNM proposal, properly massaged, could be a good, if still risky, compromise.

I turn next to internal self-government for Tobago. 

—Part I was published yesterday