Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Constitutional reform may be a pipe dream

Published:Wednesday | March 16, 2016 | 3:00 AM

Prior to Thursday February 25, election day, I was in a quandary. I wanted to vote for the member of parliament (MP) whom I believed had done well enough in four short years to warrant another stint in Parliament.

The major problem which I faced is that I wanted to vote for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and the MP was a member of the People's National Party (PNP). Had there been separation of powers as loudly championed by the National Democratic Movement (NDM) when it enjoyed a brief viability at its formation in 1995, I would have had two votes. I would have voted for the PNP MP and also Andrew Holness as prime minister.

Having only one vote, I was forced to vote for a JLP candidate for whom I did not want to vote. Having won the election by a one-seat margin, the JLP's talk of constitutional reform must be seen for what it is just talk.

Day-to-day governance alone is so difficult in Jamaica that I believe any attempt to fix our constitutional bugs will be a target kicked down the road each year of this administration's life. Governance is difficult for basically two reasons.

The first is many politicians who seek power and eventually get it derive most of their satisfaction from the sheer power-grab and not by diligently serving their constituents. While it is difficult to know which politicians in power are the grabbers, the irony is that even if they wanted to faithfully serve their constituents, it is made difficult by the present system where they have to kowtow to the prime minister in order to make it to the Cabinet.

The prime minister becomes the ultimate boss, and the people are automatically sidelined for five years.

To me, the most important aspect in the difficulty of governance is that too many of our people have been schooled on feeding off the teats of government. Add to that, widespread ignorance due to a broken education system and governance in Jamaica is a never-ending nightmare.

Recently, we saw the spectacle of PNP party supporters hurling verbal abuse at the newly minted JLP MPs as they made their way towards Gordon House. Sadder still were a few PNP supporters steeped in abysmal ignorance throwing missiles at a dog because it was 'dressed' in the green colour of the JLP.

How do you govern such a people, and how do you introduce constitutional reform to them if their behaviour is that of parentless street boys?

 

MUST BE SHARPENED UP

 

The idea behind separation of powers goes like this. At election time, two votes are available. One vote is for prime minister and the other is for the member of parliament. Whoever is elected prime minister gets to select a Cabinet from the business class, civil society and those who he believes are best suited for the various ministries. The slate of MPs elected would have as their first duty the concerns of their constituents, and in essence, Parliament would be the 'boss' of the prime minister and the Cabinet.

Persons like former Prime Minister Edward Seaga have frowned on this idea especially by citing the word 'gridlock'. Seaga may well be right as the belligerence of our people is by no means limited to those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. With this reform instituted, it is not far-fetched to conjure up our Parliament as one big fist fight after another.

Our memories are still fresh with the convenient about-turn of Bruce Golding and the dumping of his NDM ideas on constitutional reform as he returned to the fold of the JLP. Often, the reality of governance and the pressures on its structures from those seeking special favours make it a pipe dream to pursue the noble objectives of constitutional reform.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is restricted in his cabinet formation by the narrow win, but the bigger reality is that under the present arrangements, back-door pressures from every winning MP is always a consideration.

It may well be that he has some excellent MPs who will turn out to be key performers in his Cabinet. The fact is, had there been separation of powers he would have had a seemingly endless pool of talent and proven performers to pick from.

He has to play the game with the cards dealt to him. In the interim, he has to bear in mind that his political side must be sharpened up. The PNP is down, but it is not out. He has to pounce sooner instead of later and relieve the PNP of power in every parish council.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.