Two representatives per constituency needed
On July 2, 2010 I wrote an article headlined “Best way to serve the people” in relation to local government reform. I think it appropriate to revisit especially since there have been a series of protests of late.
For example, residents from Todds Road staged a fiery protest about deplorable road conditions, water only one day per week, lack of proper street lighting, no pavilion and no recreation for youths.
Similar problems exist in many areas throughout Trinidad and Tobago. The mother with a three-week-old child had to travel from Tobago to Trinidad and still has not got someone to help with a burn on the child’s hand, a disabled lady couldn’t afford to buy adult diapers and had to use garbage bags instead, crime and poor health care are still pervasive.
Further, what about the underdeveloped areas such as Toco, Manzanilla, Biche, Plum Mitan, Coalmine, Moruga and so on. Why must there be so much funding thrown to Chaguanas West and the rest left with minimal attention?
The key point revolves around individuals elected/selected to serve in Government (central and local) and their knowledge, skills, qualifications, experience, capabilities etc which collectively I’ll refer to them as “competencies”.
The requirements of central government and that of local government are distinct, yet interrelated but require persons of different competencies.
Nobel Prize winner Friedrich A Hayek (an Austrian economist and philosopher) in his book Law, Legislation and Liberty stated that “building a road, designing a building, getting water/utilities, financing are not all questions of justice but questions of effective organisation for satisfying the needs of various groups of people to be decided according to the relative importance of competing purposes or priorities.”
He also noted, “The present structure of democratic governments has been decisively determined by the fact that we have charged the representative assemblies with two altogether different tasks. We call them legislatures but by far the greater part of their work consists not in the articulation and approval of general rules of conduct but in the direction of the measures of government concerning particular matters.”
Hayek articulated that “qualities needed for representing interests are different from qualities needed for justice (for example probity, wisdom and judgment).”
He surmised that “the character of modern parliamentary institutions has been wholly shaped by needs of democratic government rather by democratic legislation” which is a weakness of T&T’s parliamentary system.
The competency requirement at central government level need individuals who are capable of dealing with issues of law and legislation, finance, long-term planning, strategy, international relations, and so on while at the local government level the competencies required will be largely those of a technical, social and behavioural nature such as being able to represent the constituency needs, to be able to listen to the people, to lobby central government and to deal with the day-to-day challenges at the constituency level.
Matters such as bad roads, drainage problems, lack of adequate potable water, inadequate health care, lack of infrastructural development, school dropouts, the sick, disabled, poor, destitute and homeless, etc require people of a varied skills set or competency.
Constitutional reform represents an opportunity to fix this central and local government problem.
There is a much needed call for decentralisation of services to the citizens from central government but to do this we need the right people in the right places. It serves no purpose to have square pegs in round holes.
While a comprehensive review is needed, one consideration for constitutional reform would be to have two representatives per constituency, one who will represent the constituency at local government level and another person who will be representing them in central government.
The issues around when they are elected and other matters will have to be worked out but it is quite unlikely to find individuals who are both Members of Parliament and constituency representatives being able to deal competently with matters of legislation on the one hand and representation on the other at the same time, except for Jack Warner given his by-election win in Chaguanas West.
This is precisely the reason why for the last 50-plus years not all constituencies were developed.
The competencies at the central government level and local government level must be largely different and the suitable individuals must be elected accordingly to manage the country nationally while bringing service to the people locally.
• Anand Heeraman is auditor general and adviser to the Integrity Commission (Turks & Caicos), a certified fraud
examiner, doctoral candidate in Political Economy of the SMC University, Switzerland. He has lived and worked in T&T, US, Qatar, Canada and recently
Turks & Caicos Islands