OUR CARIBBEAN: Consultation way to go
IN LAST week’s focus on the “ole” politics in Barbados and Guyana, I had mentioned how successive governments in this country have failed to take relevant initiatives to end the monarchical system of governance in favour of a constitutional republic with a Barbadian national as Head of State.
Since then, we have had the surprising disclosure of efforts having been made to secretly write a draft constitution.
What a stunning disclosure for a Caribbean country with a most outstanding history in nurturing and defending democratic traditions.
No constitution should be written in secret. It’s more than time, however, for the leaders of both dominant parliamentary parties – the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) – to speak publicly to the issue although – as the public would be aware – it’s not a current pressing national issue at this period of spreading social and economic woes.
Meanwhile, in the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, known for feisty politics, public attention is also being focused on a new controversy involving the operations and management of state-owned Petrotrin.
As would be known to Barbadians, as swell, in and out of the carnival season, there are no shortages of fun surprises in the politics of Trinidad and Tobago.The legendary Sparrow got it right, a long time ago – “we (the people) like it so”! Therefore, the politicians, of all parties and ethnicities, expediently feed on this culture.
‘Express’ vs Govt
The current political spectacle involving state-owned Petrotrin, the government of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, and the local media, that of the Trinidad Express in particular, should perhaps be viewed in this context.
At stake is more than the $1.2 billion of state funds involved in the pay out to what the Express has described in a hard-hitting, informative editorial of March 5 “to foreign smartmen and nobody minding the store at Pointe-a-Pierre. . . .’’
From the perspective of this columnist Prime Minister Rowey’s less than six-month old government may be unhappy with the stand adopted by the Express, but it’s consistent with an editorial policy to help improve the quality of governance within the country and, by extension our Caribbean Community.
To avoid replicating the costly financial and administrative mess at Petrotrin, perhaps Prime Minister Rowley should initiate creation of a high-level independent commission for a thorough review of the policies and culture of management by all state corporations with a view to maximising efficiency, productivity and accountability – in the national interest.
The commission to be established must, of necessity, be perceived by the public to be genuinely national and not an extension of traditional partisan party politicking.
State corporations have emerged as a major source of employment within CARICOM member states and the expertise of the vital private sector and that of the University of the West Indies should be seriously mobilised for new approaches in the creation and management of state entities with public accountability being central to their operations.
In a Caricom bloc of 14 Independent countries where state corporations have been mushrooming amid recurring complaints about inefficiencies, corruption and sloth this could well be the time for critical re-assessments in the functioning of state corporations. Needless to say that other Caricom partner states also need to consider such a critical approach.
This could perhaps coincide with sustained interest in promoting structured consultations between governing and opposition parliamentary parties – something virtually absent in our so-called “democratic governance” culture , amid the usual rhetoric about “the need for national unity’.
Sadly, instead of promoting the growth of consultative democracies, to enable and sustain national unity for social and economic development, one-party dominance of government is the norm amid thriving social/political divisions.
Recurring national elections and changing governments keep highlighting a need for structured consultations by parliamentary parties.
But the disappointing reality remains a shared arrogance to ignore the need to generate and sustain a consultative political culture in preference for the syndrome of “our party time now”, following new elections.
Perhaps the current unique political status quo in Guyana, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines where, for the first time, we have a trio of CARICOM ruling parties now simultaneously administering governance with a mere one-seat parliamentary majority, circumstances could yet influence moves toward a new culture of structured regular consultations between opposition and vruling parties.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.