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Keep checks on the exercise of power

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Last week I was chatting with a work colleague about the US Presidential election race and the strong voice that the far right seems to have. A voice which among other things supports a reduced role for central government and a voice that has been translated into real influence in the form of the Tea Party. The Tea Party is a movement which many observers believe has effectively hijacked the Republican Party. One of the better exposés of this process has to be the HBO original series called The Newsroom—if you have not seen it, do check it out.


The inherent distrust that some Americans have of government may be difficult for many to understand, but my theory is that one just needs to understand how the country was founded. It was born of a revolution which sought to overthrow a government which was believed to be unjust. To this day, there is an air of suspicion which sometimes borders on an instinctive distrust of those in authority and the need for constant checks and balances on the power wielded by those entrusted into positions of authority.


With so many friends and relatives in New York, I try to keep an eye on New York politics as well. In New York, there is a rich history of misbehaviour by those in public office. I was reading the results of a survey of state legislators by Citizens Union, a government watchdog. They reported that one out of 11 state lawmakers who left office between 1999 and 2010, did so because of ethical or criminal misconduct in New York.


The scandal that made me laugh the most has to be Congressman Anthony Weiner who represented a district that included parts of Queens and Brooklyn, which of course have many residents of Caribbean origin. His last name was most appropriate given that he got caught up in a ‘sexting’ scandal last year. It was particularly interesting how sincere he came across when the scandal first broke as he denied any wrongdoing. Of course, it turned out that he was lying.


This instinctive distrust is becoming familiar to anyone paying attention to the political scene in sunny Trinidad and Tobago. The latest Section 34 scandal has seen even the most diehard supporters and defenders of the present administration completely unable to defend what appears to be an obvious conspiracy.


Someone once said that if you want to understand war, understand politics; and if you want to understand politics, study economics. It is so incredibly clear and simple to see that the democratic process can be undermined by an election financing process that lacks transparency and effective controls. The need for constitutional reform and campaign finance reform are among the views being well ventilated elsewhere, so I will leave it alone.


My views on politics have been largely influenced by conversations I have had with both active and former politicians. I remember being in a room one afternoon, when one former government minister asked someone why he wanted to get into politics. The young man replied that he had a desire to serve.


The former minister smiled and shouted ‘rubbish’! He went on to say that while everyone says that they want to serve, the truth is that they enter politics because they crave power. I sat quietly and reflected on that view and for the most part, I am sad to say that the gentleman was probably correct in pointing to a lust for power.


Since then, my cynical view is that there is a definite need for checks on power. There is, of course, nothing wrong with voting into positions of power those who crave it. But every effort must be made to ensure that there are so many checks and balances in place that politicians feel the full weight of public scrutiny in their every act, to the extent that they actually feel uncomfortable. That discomfort should be the price they pay on a daily basis.


If this coalition government reaches the end of their present term without fulfilling their campaign promise of enacting constitutional reform and of course, enacting campaign finance reform, they must be unceremoniously voted out. On a related note, I nodded approvingly when I saw an advertisement in this week’s Economist magazine for the post of Governor of the Bank of England. That is how it is done–one advertises extensively and picks the most qualified candidate using a transparent recruitment process. I say no more.

• My name is Derren Joseph and despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow. Read more on


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