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GUEST COLUMN: Form or function


Leonard St Hill

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My disenchantment with party politics, in which I have never been engaged as the basis of a response to representative parliamentary democracy, stems from the prevalence in custom and practice of form over function in the resolution of the will of the electorate.
The House of Assembly of representatives of the electorate (mistakenly assumed to be representatives of the illiterate) does not acknowledge the existence within it of partisan political parties. Members are addressed properly, not as those of any party; but are known as members for their respective constituencies.
The Prime Minister emerges constitutionally as the choice of a majority of the members of the House of Assembly. This selection should normally be done as in the case of the Speaker when the whole House constitutes an electoral college.
Short-circuited
Unfortunately, the process of selecting a Prime Minister is short-circuited in the House of Assembly where it is taken as read and a fait accompli that the Prime Minister is the leader of those members whose election was secured by the promotion of a particular lobby known outside the House as a political party.
From that moment on, a permanent division appears between those who support the Prime Minister as a majority and those forming the minority.
The flaw in this division is that the minority is not fluid, and that in the interest of the constituencies represented, it may never show agreement with the majority who supported the selection of the Prime Minister.
This flaw reduces the representative parliamentary democracy to a feudal state.
The drift away from the ideal pattern of representative parliamentary democracy blurs the focus of governance and the relationship between the legislature (transient) and the civil establishment (permanent).
In times of crisis when the superficial trappings of form are exposed and must give way to function, it matters less who is the minister of what portfolio and more who is the permanent secretary and head of department in the minister’s portfolio.
Let us then take our eyes off the tableau of the Cabinet and go behind the scenes to evaluate the manner in which key civil servants are appointed and their competence to function as regulators in response to lawful directions received.
• Leonard St Hill is a former Chief Town Planner.

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