Jack Warner's victory in the Chaguanas West polls has proven that quality representation can trump tribal ethnic politics.However, quality representation has remained elusive in many areas across the country as the Government has failed to implement its promise of giving citizens a right to recall non-performing parliamentary representatives. The right to recall was supposed to be part of constitutional reform.
However, even though the national consultations on constitutional reform this year has already cost the Government $6 million, the right to recall seems to be on the back burner.In her manifesto unveiled in May 2010, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar vowed to initiate a process of consultation to rewrite the Constitution saying, "This will move us away from the culture of maximum leadership and develop a politics of inclusion rather than the present system of winner takes all."
Among the ideas proposed were a right to recall non-performing parliamentary representatives; fixed election dates for national and local elections; mechanisms for a referendum process; limiting the Prime Minister to two successive terms; rules governing the conduct of the Government and political parties during an election period; a stronger Integrity Commission; and local government reform.However, three years later, the much touted right to recall remains elusive.
Roget: No avenue to remove delinquent MPs until election
President of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union Ancel Roget said delinquent parliamentarians are engaging in nepotism, corruption and poor procurement practices, yet there is no avenue to remove them until election is called.
Lalla: Successive governments deluding the people
Former chairman of the Police Service Commission, Kenneth Lalla said although the Westminster system of governance has proven inadequate, successive governments have failed to deliver on constitutional reform, deluding the population into believing it was serious about reform.
Panday: If implemented all Govt MPs will be recalled
However, in an interview, former prime minister Basdeo Panday said the right to recall cannot be implemented unless there is a complete overhaul of the existing parliamentary structure."I don't think the introduction of the right to recall by itself is possible under the present Constitution," Panday said.He added, "The right to recall can only apply to a different kind of Constitution. We must have a Constitution where we separate the Legislative from the Executive. You have to change the electoral system of first-past-the-post."
Noting that the right to recall was just an election gimmick to garner votes, Panday said the Government was not engaging in proper procedures for constitutional reform."If they implement this, all the MPs of the Government will have to be recalled," Panday quipped.
He added, "The process of constitutional reform is wrong. They call a meeting which the commissioners sit on and they tell people they have three minutes to make a presentation. This is too little time to get the points across. You have to look at people's problems, especially poor people and devise a Constitution that provides mechanisms to deal with the issues."He said if the political system was changed to proportional representation, there could be a list system under which parties can recall errant or non-performing MPs.
James: It doesn't seem toa be a priority for Govt
Meanwhile, University of the West Indies lecturer, Dr Winford James said the Government had failed to implement the right to recall because "they are distracted by a host of developments of their own creation.""They did not and have not thought through the legal ramifications of an issue that sounds appealing on the hustings but is quite difficult to prosecute legislatively," James said. He added that implementing this crucial piece of legislation does not seem to be a priority for the Government.
Asked if it was a well thought out plan, James said no."We don't have any position paper on it, all we have is an attractive promise in their manifesto," he said.For the right of recall to work, James said the constituents must have the greatest authority and not the party."Political parties have no locus standi in the Constitution and there must be clear and unambiguous conditions which would lead to the recall in the first place, necessitating constitution reform.
"One of the problems is that nobody on their side has articulated a position. Another is that, in the mother country that gave us the framework for our laws, we don't hear of MPs being recalled."What we have is something called 'resignation', which depends on the maturity of the political culture–the politician, the party, the constituency, the country at large, and evolving practice," James said.
If implemented, James contended the right to recall would improve the politics of representation, as well as the practice of government. He said proper legislation must be put in place for the right of recall to work."Public education, a vigilant press and vibrant self-governing constituencies should be sufficient to prevent abuse," James noted.
Ragoonath: Right to recall drafted to catch voters
Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath also agreed that the right to recall can function if there is constitutional reform."I am not seeing the kind of progress I expected so far. We are just waiting, but we were supposed to have something on the constitutional reform by the end of this year," Ragoonath said.He said when the manifesto was drafted, the right of recall was not thought out carefully.
"It was drafted in a hurry so they could catch the voters in time for the election date. It was something the people asked for a long time. It will make MPs more responsive and once you put the proper mechanisms, it can work," Ragoonath said.
Basdeo: It should not beused to destabalise a govt
UWI's lecturer in politics, Dr Maukesh Basdeo said the Elections and Boundaries Commission must play a fundamental part if the right to recall has to work effectively."This was discussed in the last round of constitutional consultation so it should be forthcoming," Basdeo said.He said specific measures must be put in place to ensure that the right to recall is not used to destabilise a government or party.
"The right to recall must be exercised by voters because the Constitution does not recognise party groups," Basdeo said.He said framers of the Constitution should look at different models in other countries and decide what could work in T&T.
Ramadhar: Constitutional reform report in December
Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Commission and Minister of Legal Affairs, Prakash Ramadhar says consultations on constitutional reform have been completed and citizens will see a report at the end of this year.
"We expect to have the report concluded and put in the public space within the next couple months, then it will be taken for legislative drafting to be taken to Parliament," Ramadhar said. Asked why the right to recall was taking so long to be implemented, Ramadhar said it would be dangerous to implement it on its own without first engaging in broader reform of the Constitution.
"It would be dangerous to implement the right of recall in the present construct because you may have an MP who may not have the favour of ministers and so cannot deliver. In this country where there are marginal seats, you have to be careful," Ramadhar said.
He said $20 million was allocated to complete the constitutional reform consultations, yet only $6 million has been spent so far.
"The entire process will be completed at less than $10 million. I take pride in this because I have given a commitment to work towards reforming the Constitution," Ramadhar said. He also denied Panday's accusations that the consultations were a waste of time because people were given only three minutes to speak."We tried to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to be heard. In most cases, people went beyond three minutes and we didn't stop them."
Ramadhar said people with lengthier contributions had the opportunity of putting it in writing. "They could e-mail it or post it. We also recorded all the oral presentations," he added.
"Many of those submissions have been of impressive quality, depth and wisdom. Issues which were promised in the People's Partnership manifesto, such as fixed election dates, referendum and term limits for the Prime Minister have often been mentioned. However, the wisdom and thoughtfulness of the people of T&T has brought out comments on a wide range of other themes as well, such as the rights of first peoples, children's rights, the need to constitutionally protect the environment for future generations, the rights of the differently-abled and proportional representation."
Saying the national consultations embraces true democracy, Ramadhar said, "rather than bringing a draft document to the people for comment, we have gone to the people directly, seeking to create a new constitution which comes from the people themselves, and serves to ensure their rights, their liberty and their happiness."
Efforts to contact Persad-Bissessar for comment proved futile. However, leader of government business Dr Roodal Moonilal said the right of recall will be implemented as part of the Government's comprehensive constitutional reform package.