Govt needs a better way to respond to citizens’ needs
In a recent Facebook posting online, following the humiliating defeat in the Chaguanas West by-election, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan conceded, “The Government failed to live up to its campaign promises because it has been consumed with the transition from opposition to government.” According to the AG, “The Government had to plug the many leaks that were left behind by the erstwhile PNM (People’s National Movement) administration.”
The AG implicitly has admitted that there is an urgent need for a dependable structure
—a better arrangement for the delivery of goods and services to the citizenry. His chro-
nicles suggest the need for some kind of reform—a more pragmatic and suitable mechanism to facilitate communication between the Government and the citizens, in order to promote a trusting relationship and the equitable distribution of human necessities.
In essence, what the AG was unknowingly alluding to is the fact that representatives, especially those with ministerial portfolios, are unable or unsuitable to perform both their constituency representations and ministerial responsibilities. This brings me to an important and crucial question. Why do we need ministers?
Ministries are fortified with technocrats, led by permanent secretaries who are, in reality, charged with the responsibility of executing government’s policies and should be accountable to the Parliament, not a minister, for dereliction of such responsibility. Our present legal and physical structure of government and governance is a prescription for corruption, nepotism and cronyism. We are therefore obligated to try a different formula.
For 50 years, we replicated a system inherited from our colonial past, which we failed to periodically revisit to ensure it is workable and applicable to our needs and situation. We do not need a one-time, extensive overhaul of our present Constitution, however, constant reviews are necessary and a willingness to initiate changes as the times in which we live so demand—these are called amendments to the Constitution or a work in progress.
Representatives are elected to Parliament by the people to conduct the people’s business. Most of them are ill-prepared, and bereft of the skill sets that are necessary to be ministers. They are the voices of the people, the nexus between constituents and Parliament. They are debaters, lawmakers, policy-framers, and controllers of budgetary allocations and expenditure, among other things. We need to change our parliamentary structure, in a way that promotes efficacy in government. The functions and responsibilities of Cabinet should be vested in the Parliament.
The party with the majority should be led by a majority leader and the party in the minority, a minority leader. The party whip and simple majority rule should be eliminated. All legislations and major expenditures should be debated and ratified by a two-thirds majority which, by the way, will reflect the will of the people. With this arrangement, representatives will be empowered to vote on the merit of the issues at hand and their individual consciences, rather than tow the party line for fear of reprisal.
The majority party in Parliament will set the agenda and nominate a Speaker, worthy of respect from both sides of the divide. Both parties collectively would establish parliamentary committees to evaluate legislations, prior to bringing them to the floor for debate, and support the various ministries in discharging their responsibilities. In addition, appointees to the board of State companies, regional health authorities, and service commissions should all be confirmed by both houses of Parliament.
This will be a step in the right direction and will go a long way in minimising corruption and discouraging profligate campaign financing.
Kenrick Paul Raymond