We need a governing system of our own

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Prior to the 2015 general election, I met a then opposition senator who went on to become a senior Cabinet member in the present administration. We were chatting about the issues impacting governance in Trinidad and Tobago.

I expressed that in my view, the problem was not the players-not Kamla, Manning, or Rowley. The real hindrance is the system under which we are governed. He agreed wholeheartedly.

Now, more than ever, that feeling is still strong and shared by many members of both parties, that our system of governance is not representative of and not working for the people of T&T.

The two traditional racebased political parties have been able to take advantage of the current system in gaining power. However, both have failed to govern optimally under it. The current model has become so entrenched that it seems impossible to change, progress or transition to a more fair and representative governing framework. Both parties have become dependent on the current system to ensure their survival.

Political history will show that our nation came close twice to dislodging these two parties as the only governing options, with strong leaders and personalities at the forefront-the late Karl Hudson-Phillips in 1981 and Winston Dookeran in 2007. Both were unable to overcome the inherent institutional obstacles.

The fact that these indisputably competent and desirable candidates, supported by a significant proportion of the electorate, could not breach the hold on leadership held by our traditional two parties solidifies my opinion that it is not an issue with their candidacy but rather a defective and irrelevant system that is non-representative of the people.

What is required is not a copy-and-paste Westminster system that works in Great Britain because they have a Parliament of over 400. As a result, the Cabinet (the executive) cannot dominate and control the Parliament as is the practice in T&T. Because of our small size, most, if not all, members of the executive comprise members of the majority, short-changing the people who elected them to the House of Representatives in the process.

We need a well-formulated and envisioned governing system of our own, indigenous and tailored to the needs of our nation. We can study and adapt features and elements from the relatively successful democracies around us.

Already, we have great minds in our nation addressing this very issue, with reference specifically to the Hugh Wooding proposal and the recent constitutional reform forum. We need further input from those experienced in service, with no political ambition except to serve in this regard, on the formulation of a white paper on needed and effective constitutional reform measures.

I can think of several servicemen and scholars like Basdeo Panday, Winston Dookeran, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Russell Martineau, Garvin Nicholas, Prakash Ramadhar and other wellrespected and accomplished professionals among us, like Martin Daly and Israel Khan, to name a few.

Here is my layman’s suggestion of a potential bare-bones model to add to the conversation regarding constitutional overhaul:

1. An executive president and vice-president elected by the people with a run-off, in case no one gets over 50 per cent of votes cast, with one term of six years or two terms of four years each.

2. Separate the Parliament from the executive.

3. Have one bicameral Parliament with half first past the post and half via proportional representation with term limits. In this way, the majority will rule and small upcoming parties could enter the legislature.

4. Parliament joint select committees should have subpoena power, with hearings open to the public to promote greater transparency.

5. The election of Speaker and deputy Speaker should be from outwith the parliament, through the judicial statutary body, providing three people from former or present judges, with secret ballot voting by parliamentarians. We need others to forward innovative ideas, opinions and suggestions in order to advance this discussion and debate into a movement, given the power to effect reform that is so critical to our future growth and maturity as a nation.

Ghassan Youseph
Arima