Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Coalition system forcing accountability


‘Principled’: Prakash Ramadhar, COP leader.

Mark Fraser

The offer of resignation of Chandresh Sharma and its acceptance by the Prime Minister has brought into focus the number of resignations and/or dismissals of ministers from this Government, sparking a national debate on this subject.

The latest ministerial change comes on the heals of the call by Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar for Mr Sharma’s resignation. Within 24 hours of Mr Ramadhar’s call, it was answered affirmatively.

Resignations and dismissals were very rare, if not totally absent, from the  governance of prior regimes. Is it that the character of past ministers was different or better than those of the present? I submit not. The thing that is different is the dawning of a change in the culture of politics in T&T, heralded by our present coalition Government.

What we have been witnessing for the past four years, as bad as many people may think things are, is a coalition that, by the very nature of coalitions, has shown a commitment to holding ministers responsible and accountable. 

As an illustration, I will give an example. If one person owns and operates a business by himself, he can, if he chooses to, install an air-conditioning unit at his home which does not belong to the company and pay for it from the company’s account, and he can put it in the books of the company as an expense, and no one will be the wiser, including the tax man.

But if the company is owned and operated by two partners, no partner would be expected to allow the other to do such a thing.

I will be the first one to admit this United National Congress (UNC)/COP coalition is far from perfect. Certainly it is not what I and many others expected. However, coalitions necessarily bring with them a heightened internal sense of accountability. It is this additional check that has some ministers no longer at their desks.

The most significant problem with this coalition, in my view, is that it was hurriedly baked to contest the election of 2010. The leaders at the time had no choice, as the system under which we operate does not allow for any other way. This is why constitutional reform is critical to the prosperity of this beloved country, where the third force must be an essential part of the governance process.

The election results of 1981, 1991 in Trinidad and 2007, where third parties got votes by the hundreds of thousands and not a damn seat should not be allowed to happen again.

I am not making a case for the survival of the COP because I share the view of Prof Patrick Watson that the third force right now is parked up, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that they will vote COP in the 2015 election. On the contrary, COP’s conduct in this Government may be held against them. But the third force has been here for the past 35 years and will be here for the next 35.

Now we are in the middle of the People’s National Movement’s internal election campaign. Candidate for leader Pennelope Beckles-Robinson stated she is open to talks about proportional representation. However, her opponent, Dr Keith Rowley, criticised her, stating proportional representation (PR) is a dagger in the PNM’s back.

So Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Winston Dookeran, Ramadhar, Basdeo Panday, Beckles-Robinson and many, many others appreciate the need and benefit to the people of some form of PR, but not Dr Rowley. He is saying PR is not good for the PNM and, therefore, should never be allowed to happen.

Dr Rowley, as usual, is putting the PNM first and his country after. This brand of self-interested politics is what a coalition government aims to keep in check. 

Let me end by giving credit where credit is due, to the political leader of the COP, who continues to make a significant contribution to this country. Perhaps he could say a lot more than he has and he could be heard more loudly and clearly than he has been, but I say wholeheartedly and without fear of contradiction that Mr Ramadhar is neither weak nor is he a sell-out. He is principled, valued and steadfast in his political and personal integrity, an invaluable member of any organisation of which he is a part, and more so to those whom he leads.

Ghassan Youseph

former mayor of Arima