Thursday, December 05, 2002

John Spence, writing in the Express today, weighs in on the constitution reform issue:

"My own opinion is that our problems stem from deficiencies in the political parties, rather than in the Constitution. I believe that if we had sensible political parties, many of the problems in governance would not have arisen and conversely whatever constitution we may devise could be frustrated by the political parties. My preferred approach would be to look at the problems that have arisen over the last few years and devise amendments to the Constitution to address these.... Our present concentration on constitution reform may cause us to lose sight of the major problem of inadequate political parties."

The "inadequacy" of T&T's political parties is indeed a major problem; what Spence does not grasp is that one of the chief goals of meaningful constitution reform must be to provoke the parties to their own internal reform. The PNM & the UNC have no incentive to adjust the mechanisms by which the country is governed; as things stand, a majority of a few hundred votes is enough to give either party almost limitless power for a five-year term. But if the mechanisms were changed so as to guarantee true representation for the populace — by making the legislature into a genuine check on the actions of the executive — it might be possible to force the parties to produce real statesmen & real ideas in order to retain power. They might have to resort to truly democratic internal structures in order to achieve this. And a legislature with real power to defy the prime minister & his Cabinet might guard against the abuses of power that government after government has committed unscathed.

So ad hoc amendments to eliminate the possibility of parliamentary deadlock — which is what Spence seems to be suggesting — will not even get near to the fundamental problem. We need to work back to first principles; & I remain convinced that the very first principle must be representation, giving citizens meaningful control over how their country is run. Our present constitution does not wholeheartedly embody this principle. Are we ready for one that does?

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