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Chance for every Tobagonian to govern
Orville London can turn what he says is an “unwanted” and politically dangerous 12-0 victory of the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections into an opening for the blossoming of a people’s participatory democracy.
The creation of a platform for the people and institutions of Tobago to participate meaningfully in the day-to-day governance can provide the basis for the kind of constitutional reform needed in the relationship between Tobago and Trinidad and at the level of the national Constitution.
London has been talking about “legacy” in this his last four years as Chief Secretary; well, fate has provided him with a practical opportunity for initiating a process which could turn an election outcome fraught with the seeds of dictatorship ie, without an opposition voice in the Assembly—into an administration that allows itself to be directly influenced by people in their communities, in their churches, in the business sector, in the tourism industry, in agriculture and converting every Tobagonian and non-Tobagonian resident into a participant in Government.
Having a people deeply involved in governing themselves goes beyond a formal review of the Constitution. Indeed, a participatory democracy will assist in watering the ground for constitutional reform that has meaning. Stated differently, with people being involved in the process of governance, they will identify the broad outline and specifics for quality governance.
To achieve such an ideal, the Chief Secretary, his assembly members and their advisors must begin to establish an institutional mechanism to involve village communities, the business sector, church groups and groups of significant and respected elders of Tobago in policy and programme formulation and implementation.
The framework must be completely without political partisanship, meaning the mobilisation effort must not be a platform for rejected and aspiring politicians to foster party and personal political ambitions. Similarly, broadening and deepening political involvement by citizens and residents in the process of governance must not be a smart-man attempt by the ruling PNM to further encircle the administration of Tobago with PNMism.
The groups can be involved both before and after the formulation of and the implementation of plans and programmes to advance the development of Tobago and its people. The insertion of the groups will be deliberative without the constitutional power to change policies and programmes.
However, with consultation out in the open, the public will have an opportunity to make judgments about the advice given, that taken, and the rationale advanced by the Assembly when it does not accept the proposals suggested by the community-based groups.
At another level, and although choices have already been made, Chief Secretary London could have enhanced his democratic credentials by appointing one of his three councillors from outside his party.
He could have chosen from among those many respected Tobagonians (born Tobagonians or Trinidadians resident on the island), freed the person of having any loyalty to the PNM, and have him/her survey the polices and programmes that reach the THA on an independent basis.
It is never too late for such an enlightened approach to the politics. The independent analysts have, in my view, adequately accounted for why such a majority of the electorate voted for the PNM and with a vengeance against the TOP, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the People’s Partnership Government.
The election outcome was a direct comment on the quality of governance of the People’s Partnership in Trinidad and Tobago: the perception of a regime engaged in corrupt dealings; the majority of Tobagonians saw the PM and the UNC as intruding in their affairs without their sanctioning of it; it was a rejection of the style and substance of a campaign of deception that was insensitive to the desires of Tobagonians and arrogant of them as a people fully able to determine who they want to govern them.
Tobagonians interpreted the action of the Prime Minister and her inner Cabinet to carry the amendment to the THA Act to the national Parliament on the eve of the polls with little hope of it being passed into law as a mamaguy. It also did not escape Tobagonians that the process through which the final bill passed on its course to the Parliament left the THA out of the loop.
The Tobago electorate must have also voted against the cheapness of the campaign filled with allegations without substantiation. They also would have felt revolted by the empty and insulting television and radio advertisements. The advertisement which used the voices of children disrespecting Teacher Orville would surely have rankled a community which still holds to a culture of respect for elders.
Hilton Sandy’s Calcutta comments were read as the need for Tobagonians to defend their ancestral turf against those who would come from outside. Last week’s column put the allegations of racist scare by Sandy in the wider electoral context: race and ethnicity have been a major element of the politics and hysteria is not a solution.
The UNC is free to interpret the outcome of the election in the manner it chooses, but self-delusion has its consequences.
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