She did more than misspeak

Three incidents happened recently to catch my attention.  Firstly, Basdeo Panday’s remarks at Kelvin Ramnath’s funeral took place a few weeks ago at the Arunodai Presbyterian Church in Balmain, Couva.  His remarks were described as distasteful, overly critical, and inappropriate by some.  Others thought he was honest and pointing out the hypocrisy of others.  Secondly, Her Excellency Ambassador Therese Baptiste-Cornelis on Cultural Diversity at the Fourth Area of Sustainable Development, is considered unprofessional and somewhat ludicrous.  Others thought she was just herself – a straightforward, down to earth person.  Thirdly, U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently visited London and delivered a major foreign policy speech. He expressed skepticism of Britain’s preparation for the Summer Olympics, which some considered inappropriate and ill-informed.  Others thought it was an honest assessment by a strong candidate unafraid to speak up when necessary.

In each of these situations, there were at least two ways of looking at it.  The Ambassador, however, went a bit further.  At the time of writing, rumors were circulating about her being pressured to resign but in a way that saves face for those concerned.  Rather than dealing with what I see as a symptom, I would prefer to focus on what I see as the underlying issue.

As I have argued before, the problem lies in our political culture and deficiencies in our present constitution.  These two issues are, of course, inextricably linked.  In terms of deficiencies in our present constitution, I refer specifically to the prime minister's power to make appointments to national importance positions without any transparent process involving checks and balances.  Like the coalition government here in the UK, the PP coalition came to power with the promise of constitutional reform.  Unlike the UK coalition government (whose effort at reform admittedly did not make it past the Lower House), this initiative does not appear to have been given the priority it deserves.

The result has been that we have a person appointed to a key position who can openly admit on camera for the world to see that their appointment was more a function of their social connections than their technical competence or professional achievements. What a powerful message this is.   Therefore, it is logical to consider other recent high profile appointments in this light—no need to name names.  It should be noted that this is not Trinidad and Tobago's first government to make such poor appointments. Still, the point is that this government attained power based on their promise of ‘change,’ which included constitutional reform.

On a related note, the Cabinet voted to allocate $10 million to each Member of Parliament to spend within their constituencies.  How is this related to the previous issue?  It is just another example of the government avoiding the deeper deficiencies within our present institutional and constitutional arrangements.  What about local government reform and the opportunity to strengthen if not reform other existing institutions?  Surely those of us who advocate transparency and accountability are very concerned. USA Tax Singapore

This was the moment when members of the PP coalition government could have assured themselves a place in our nation’s history by addressing the known constitutional deficiencies.  We all know that because of the political culture, any changes would not lead to a utopia.  At the same time, by amending the constitution in a way that all positions of national importance (including Service Commissions, the Integrity Commission, the Boards of Special Purpose State Enterprises, Central Bank Governor, etc.) are brought to Parliament and subject to a negative resolution, even with a Parliamentary majority, at least these people would be subject to scrutiny by our elected representatives (and on national television).  It may not eliminate all the questionable candidates, but it could catch a few extremely unsuitable ones.

An argument can be made that this is the single biggest obstacle to national progress.  Idea merchants in the form of foreign consultants can peddle the most brilliant plans. Still, once loyalty trumps competence, we, the citizens, will remain condemned to watching a nation that never realizes its fullest potential.  So come on, the PP government.  Take a risk.  It would mean that you are assured a place in our history as the government that took the nation to the next level.  Heroes.  The alternative is easy to see.  In a few years, you will have the worst possible position in a small island state…you will be just another former politician.

My name is Derren Joseph, and I love my country.  Despite its challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com.   

Note: The blog that used to be here is now at https://www.mooresrowland.tax/.

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