Saturday, December 14, 2002

Lloyd Best goes at the constitution reform issue from another angle in yesterday's Express, describing the failure of the Caribbean's educated elite "to describe its own reality by using concepts and designations that spring out of its own experience" (as opposed to borrowing ideas of varying degrees of relevance & irrelevance from elsewhere).

"Should we not turn instead to the hard and very possibly 'unrewarding' work of plumbing the origins of the present Caribbean mess?"

This fundamental requirement to understand the Caribbean as a unique social, historical & cultural phenomenon, in its own terms, has been the basis of Best's work for forty years, & now of his radical proposals for reconstituting the colonial state, as he aptly puts it.

A week ago Best gave a detailed rationale for the "House of Parliament" with which he'd replace the T&T senate; today he does the same for his "House of Government", "the agency within which the country would be able to judge, on a continuing basis from discussion and debate, the comparative merits of all the leaders of parties vying for the right to become the Executive":

"What we now routinely mistake for a House of Representatives is nothing of the kind.

"Any child arriving from Mars would see that it is the place where the Chief Executive and his one or two rivals for the prime ministership each assembles her/his aides. While it was substantially so all along, it was not wholly so, not until the Republican Constitution of 1976. The then PM vested himself with the right to handpick up to 16 executive aides from the Senate.

"The diabolical effect of this, though unappreciated at the time, was to make members of the first or lower house essentially expendable and therefore susceptible equally of being handpicked. This is the real meaning of would be representatives and legislators ritually regarded as crapauds and millstones. To the extent that the party politics favours such a dispensation — which it does; and to the extent that the culture of the incumbent is reproduced on the Opposition side, what we have ended up with is not necessarily a bad thing. It is simply a House of Government unvarnished. It offers to the electorate no semblance of representation."

(Compare Best's ideas with, for instance, John Spence's rather timid suggestions in last Thursday's Express, & you realise how far most of us still are from recognising the necessity of an entire structural reconception of our constitutional arrangements. Superficial, piecemeal patching up — Spence would have MPs' salaries raised, the number of cabinet ministers fixed etc. — would only distract us from our real task, & postpone what I believe is an inevitable revolutionary change in the way we govern ourselves. (Flying my optimist's colours this morning!)

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